Meet Gac Filipaj: The Columbia Janitor Who Worked Relentlessly For His Ivy League Degree
Every college graduate has embarked on a particularly difficult path to get where they are, but few have a story like that of 52-year-old Columbia University graduate Gac Filipaj.
Filipaj was born in Yugoslavia, a country that became a warzone in the early 90s. He could either fight for a cause he didn't believe in or flee.
"I am not blind. I look in the mirror and see myself. If God has not given me some nice appearance he has given me a head, has given me a heart and I can make myself better," Filipaj told CBS News.
Filipaj escaped to New York and got a job cleaning bathrooms. But these bathrooms weren't just in any random building. Filipaj became a janitor at Columbia University, a job he probably wouldn't have taken if it didn't come with 14 free credit hours a year.
"I do believe that education, a good education, is very important not only for individuals themselves but for society as a whole," Filipaj said.
But he first had to learn English before beginning his education, a task that took 7 years while working a full-time job. He then enrolled in Columbia's prestigious classics program, studying Greek and Latin during the day and returning to his custodial duties at night.
"He is a remarkable human being," said Professor Gareth Williams, who oversaw Filipaj's thesis on Roman philosopher Seneca. "He would ask one question and then he would ask another question and a third question. His intellectual curiosity is very broad," Williams said.
12 more years of work then study ,and Filipaj has graduated from one of the most respected schools in the country. He told CBS that he plans to be come a teacher, first getting his Masters and then maybe even a PhD.
"There is a saying that Seneca said: 'While you teach, you learn,'" Filipaj said.