Husband, father and grandfather are some of the many titles 84-year-old Jerry Pollard has been given throughout his life, but on Monday he earned yet another — college graduate.
Pollard graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, becoming the oldest graduate to receive his bachelor’s degree from the school in 55 years.
"This is what I was going for, but I never believed I would do this," he said. "I retired in 2000, I had no hobbies, I had to find something to keep myself busy and I decided to get the education I missed 50 years earlier."
Pollard first enrolled at DePaul University as a young man in the 1950s, but ultimately enlisted in the Army, got married, started a job and had four kids. It wasn’t until 2006 he began furthering his education once again.
He started by taking one class each semester.
"I don’t need a job so what’s the hurry?" he said.
Pollard said the best part about being in college at his age was interacting with young students.
"When you sit down with old people, you hear about aches and pains," he said. "You sit down with young people and they've got their lives in front of them."
Pollard didn’t let his age keep him from the full college experience. During spring break, he climbed Mount Everest, trekking up 14,700 feet — a number he proudly displayed on his cap Monday.
Many of Pollard’s nine grandchildren, several in college themselves, watched their beloved grandfather accept his diploma.
"He beat me by one year, but I’m going to grad school so I said we can race then," said his granddaughter Danielle Schaer.
Pollard’s biggest supporter, his wife of 57 years, passed away a few years ago.
"I can hear cheeks cracking when she’s smiling up there," he said. "She always said, 'When you graduate, I’m going to make you a party.'"
Graduation isn’t the end of Pollard’s educational journey. Despite a degree in history already accomplished, he’s enrolled in a course on pre-colonial sub-Saharan African history for next semester.
And he plans to keep going.
"I’m very proud of him," said his daughter Cindy Schaer. "He’s inspired people he doesn’t even know and it’s incredible."