When history graduate Jerry Griffo walked across the commencement stage during the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences ceremony on Saturday, May 19, he was astounded as his fellow graduates rose from their seats to give him a standing ovation. At the age of 65, Griffo is one of the oldest graduates in CSUSM’s Class of 2012.

“I was totally unprepared for the response from the crowd,” Griffo recalls. “I’m extremely flattered and also convinced that their applause and support wasn’t as much about me, as it was for what I represent… someone following their dreams. It strikes a chord with people and reminds us that anything is possible.”

Although he is more than four decades older than the average college graduate, Griffo fit right in with his classmates during commencement, wearing flip flops with his academic regalia and donned with floral leis. His journey to college, however, was far from that of his peers. 

After graduating high school in 1965, Griffo attended several different community colleges without success, never able to find studies relevant to a career path he was passionate about. In 1980, he began working for Amtrak and moved his way up to train supervisor, managing the route from Los Angeles to Seattle. Shortly before retiring after 30 years, Griffo decided he wanted to return to college and finally obtain his degree. He enrolled at Palomar Community College and later transferred to CSUSM in 2010 to study history.

“History appealed to me. I’ve always been interested in history and politics, and wanted to give context to what I’ve seen, heard and learned from my life experiences and travels,” he explained.

And his education did just that, he said.

On May 19, Griffo graduated cum laude alongside 91 of his history classmates, 1,200 of his fellow college graduates and 9,000 guests. During the recessional as he walked down the center aisle lined by ceremony guests, Griffo was again surprised at the response he received. Scores of people were there to shake his hand, take photographs with him and tell him what an inspiration he was to them.

“Several people, some of whom where there celebrating their son or daughter as their family’s first college graduate, told me that I had inspired them to think about returning to school,” he said.

Like some of his fellow graduates, Griffo hasn’t decided exactly how he’ll utilize his degree, although he is certain that he’ll put it to good use. His love for learning will not end with his baccalaureate degree; the native Californian is currently contemplating graduate school.

“We tend to think of college being for those in their early twenties… but, I am a testimony that it is never too late to get an education and that CSUSM is poised to facilitate no matter what your age.”

“I was totally unprepared for the response from the crowd,” Griffo recalls. “I’m extremely flattered and also convinced that their applause and support wasn’t as much about me, as it was for what I represent… someone following their dreams. It strikes a chord with people and reminds us that anything is possible.”