Students Cheer for 90-Year-Old College Graduate

Carlsbad resident Wally Taibleson, 90, has just earned his third master's degree


More than 2,700 students at California State University San Marcos cheered for a classmate and  lifelong learner who, at 90 years old, became the oldest graduate in the school's history.

Carlsbad resident Wally Taibleson earned his third master’s degree alongside fellow classmates in CSUSM’s 2013 commencement ceremony Friday evening at the Mangrum Track & Field on campus.

In the process, he went down in history as the oldest graduate in the 23-campus California State University system, according to CSUSM communications specialist Christine Vaughan.

According to CSUSM public information officer Margaret Lutz Chantung, this latest academic accolade is Taibleson’s third master’s degree earned from the university.

Lutz Chantung told NBC 7 that CSUSM is proud to call Taibleson a returning alumnus.

“He is an inspiration to all of our students and a positive reminder that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. You can be impacted by knowledge, even well into your 90s,” Lutz Chantung told NBC 7.

Taibleson’s son, Jim Taibleson, told NBC 7 he’s equally inspired and proud of his father.

Jim, an adjunct associate professor at New York University, flew into town to attend his dad’s big graduation ceremony.

“He’s my best friend. It’s fantastic, inspiring and humbling to call him my father,” Jim told NBC 7. “He’s a living, breathing rebuttal to anyone who thinks they can’t go back to school or achieve their goals.”

Jim says his father first attended college in 1993, at the age of 70, as a way to keep his mind sharp and fill his spare time after his retirement.

The Taibleson family hails from Chicago, Ill., where Taibleson worked as an accountant and later a CFO and vice chairman for the beverage company, National Can Corporation, before retiring in 1984.

In 1986, Jim says his parents, tired of the freezing Chicago winters, fulfilled a lifelong dream by moving to Carlsbad.

From there, Taibleson earned his bachelor’s degree in history from MiraCosta College and then went on to earn three master’s degrees from Cal State San Marcos in english, writing and literature, history and most recently, education.

“College helps him stay sharp. He’s insatiable and curious and a true example of a lifelong learner,” said Jim. “He’s the embodiment of what people should be doing when they’re curious and want to keep acquiring more knowledge.”

Education is a running theme in the Taibleson family.

Jim said his late mother, Clare Taibleson, also earned her degree at the age of 56 from Northeastern University in Illinois. She passed away about 10 years ago and Jim’s father used college as a way to stay busy and meet new friends.

With several graduations under his belt, Jim said his father was not the least bit nervous about walking across the 2013 CSUSM graduation stage on Friday. He was more excited than anything, Jim said.

The pair had plans to go out to dinner to celebrate after the ceremony.

This latest master’s degree will be hung up on a special wall in Taibleson’s Carlsbad home, right next to his other degrees and, of course, his wife Clare’s degree.

Jim says this will likely be his dad’s final master's, as his vision is degenerating, making it more difficult for him to read, write and do his homework. He's been using two magnifying glasses to read his text books in recent years.

“Now, we’re just trying to figure out what kind of adventure is next for him,” said Jim.

Prior to his graduation ceremony, Taibleson told reporters he was proud to be earning his master's degree in education. The 90-year-old grad said he lives by this quote: "As long as you're learning, you're not old."

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