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Texas Tech grad proves it's never too late for degree

Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2003

LUBBOCK, Texas William Whitfill graduated from college earlier this month after three careers and a 65-year absence from the classroom.

Whitfill, who turns 83 in October, became Texas Tech's oldest graduating undergraduate when he received his history degree during commencement May 17.

After encouragement from two grandsons, Whitfill decided to finish the college education he started in 1938. He entered Tech as a zoology major before joining the Air Force in 1942 and serving in World War II. He did not return to a Tech classroom until 2001.

Whitfill noticed a few changes on campus since the 1940s, including cell phones, more students and a casual dress code.

didn't even know what a cell phone was," he said. "They really use them. Every third person is talking on the phone. I don't know what they have to talk about, but they are always on the phone."

Whitfill said the class sizes are larger and there are about 10 times as many students on campus. There were about 2,500 the first time he attended Tech, he said.

Another adjustment for Whitfill was the way students dressed, which is much more casual.

"It took a long time to get used to that," Whitfill said. "We always dressed up. Now, they look like they just crawled out of bed and came to class."

Whitfill says he loves history and lived much of the history he learned in class.

He said some students would ask about World War II. Whitfill was active in the Air Force for six years and was in the Reserves for 28 years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1980.

He retired from farming in 1985, but the retirement was short-lived. He earned his real estate license the next year.

Whitfill commuted from Plainview to take two courses on Tuesdays and

Thursdays and continued to work in real estate until retiring earlier this

month.

Whitfill's son-in-law, Tibor Nagy, a Tech alumnus and former ambassador to

Ethiopia and Guinea, was the commencement speaker.

Nagy has been named associate vice provost for international affairs and

director of the International Cultural Center. He will succeed Idris Traylor on

June 15.

Traylor also taught three of Whitfill's classes.

Whitfill said his best experience was Traylor noting to the younger students

that he was older and had a longer commute to class, but never missed and

was never late.

"He always made a point of bringing that up," Whitfill said. "The students

would drag in late and he didn't care for that."

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