he's one individual who makes his own future.

jmc01May 14, 2012

Associated Press

May 14, 2012

LA TIMES

NEW YORK For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out the trash at Columbia University.

A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living at the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics.

As a Columbia employee, his classes were free. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, he said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans.

"I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family: not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life," he said.

His graduation with honors capped a dozen years of study, including readings in ancient Latin and Greek.

"This is a man with great pride, whether he's doing custodial work or academics," said Peter Awn, dean of Columbia's School of General Studies and professor of Islamic studies. "He is immensely humble and grateful, but he's one individual who makes his own future."

Filipaj, now an American citizen, was accepted at Columbia after learning English. His mother tongue is Albanian.

An ethnic Albanian and Roman Catholic, he fled Montenegro in 1992 as a brutal civil war loomed. He was about to be drafted into the Yugoslav army led by Serbs, many of whom considered Albanians their enemy. He had nearly finished law school in Belgrade.

He earned the Columbia degree after years of studying late into the night in his Bronx apartment, where he would open his books after a 2:30-to-11 p.m. shift as a "heavy cleaner," his job title. Before exam time or to finish a paper, he would pull all-nighters.

On Sunday morning in the sun-drenched grassy quad of Columbia's Manhattan campus, Filipaj flashed a huge smile and a thumbs-up as he walked off the stage after shaking hands with Columbia President Lee Bollinger.

Now, his ambition is to get a master's degree, maybe even a doctorate, in Roman and Greek classics. He hopes to become a teacher, while translating his favorite classics into Albanian.

For now, he's trying to get "a better job," maybe as supervisor of custodians or something similar, at Columbia if possible.

But he's not interested in furthering his studies to make more money.

"The richness is in me, in my heart and in my head," Filipaj said. "Not in my pockets."

Soon afterward, the feisty, 5-foot-4 janitor picked up a broom and dustpan and returned to work."

This gentleman's story is to be admired and he clearly makes no excused!

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tobr24u(z6 RI)

American kids should pay heed...

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 6:23AM
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houseful

I read this last night. Very inspiring! Reminds me of my dad. He was a newly retired Air Force Colonel settling down in a very small town. There was only large company there at the time and they had no openings for him. He went back every week and they finally told him that the only opening was a janitorial position. He said, "I'll take it!" Wasn't long before he was promoted and running the engineering department. :)

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 8:44AM
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pnbrown

What's the point?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:04AM
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esh_ga

This is indeed a story of work ethic. It is acknowledged that he was already bright: "He had nearly finished law school in Belgrade. "

But the willingness to take whatever job he needed was key - although keep in mind that taking a janitor job at Columbia entitled him to free tuition. Very shrewd.

Demi would be proud. ;)

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:05AM
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demifloyd(8)

Demi would be proud. ;)

*

;) Esh.

Personal Responsibility.

It works!~

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:17AM
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david52_gw

He's still working as a janitor, after all that effort. Wish him all the luck in the world finding a job as a teacher in this economy - 50% of college graduates can't find a job.

At least he's gone through school for free, w/o incurring loans.

/solution is more tax cuts for the wealthy, and deregulating the banks.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:29AM
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woodnymph2_gw

A huge dose of good luck, good health, combined with his own determination, intelligence, and hard work. Kudos.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:33AM
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PRO
Brushworks Spectacular Finishes(5)

I guess those other Columbia students weren't interested in tuition assistance. Or, didn't need it. :)

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:43AM
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Roughseas

inspiring

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 10:14AM
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david52_gw

"I guess those other Columbia students weren't interested in tuition assistance. Or, didn't need it. :)"

I watched the segment on TV - they said that the janitor post came with a few free credits every term. Took him 7 years to learn English, then it looks like he took one course at a time.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 10:22AM
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vgkg(Z-7)

Newt was right about starting off as janitors?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 10:53AM
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althea_gw

I remember when people in the U.S. looked down on draft evaders.

Have to give Mr. Filipaj credit for taking advantage of his intellectual abilities and getting some nice breaks.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 1:24PM
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chase_gw

This is an example of America giving opportunity to immigrants that could just as easily been taken advantage of by an American citizen.

He came here as a refugee, took a menial job that in theory was available to an American citizen, took advantage of free education as a non citizen before going on to eventually become a citizen.

While that may drive some people nuts I think it is what makes Canada and America strong. Thank goodness for immigrants who are willing to work hard and improve their lot because they improve our society in the doing.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 4:57PM
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labrea_gw

We need inspiration from time to time I agree because the system is skewed the other direction. This is quite inspirational it's like all those people who have gone to LOURDES year in & year out "Yah Gotta be In it To Win It" jsut like the lotto.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 5:06PM
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jmc01

PN, Mr Filipaj told you what the point was...he's achieving richness!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 6:45PM
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pnbrown

So janitors who aren't academic, what about them? Maybe some are amazing bowlers.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 6:52PM
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jmc01

The colleges on this link offer bowling scholarships, pn. Why are you insulting Janitors?

Here is a link that might be useful: Anyone can

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 8:12PM
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pnbrown

I'm not insulting them, the OP is, by suggesting that those janitors that don't study greek and latin and get degrees from ivy U's aren't trying hard enough to "make their own future".

It's always a little silly to select a high-achiever and say "why can't everyone do like that?"

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:37PM
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labrea_gw

It's how lottos make all their money blind hope for wild dreams.
I give him a lot of credit for surviving Theodore Roosevelt HS it's directly opposite Fordham University it was the setting for the Movie The Wanderer and was a trouble HS for years. A lot of Albanians live in & around that Neighborhood.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 1:05AM
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pnbrown

You mean troubled kids make their own futures as well?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 7:13AM
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labrea_gw

I have no idea what a sweeping generalization like that means.
I have every respect or any kids who can get through NYC public High Schools, like Roosevelt.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 8:01AM
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pnbrown

jmc, would you care to explicate in your own words what your point is with this thread?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 8:11AM
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patriciae_gw(07)

"I remember when people in the U.S. looked down on draft evaders"

Althea-you surely arent suggesting that you would respect this man more is he had participated in the genocidal yugoslavian wars?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 2:00PM
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althea_gw

Patriciae, absolutely not. I think it's a bit humorous to see him made into something of a hero by the major media when he is here because he evaded the draft.

"While that may drive some people nuts I think it is what makes Canada and America strong. Thank goodness for immigrants who are willing to work hard and improve their lot because they improve our society in the doing."

Chase is right, draft evades enrich culture.

"Some draft dodgers returned home to the United States after the 1977 amnesty, but according to an estimate by sociologist John Hagan, around 50,000 settled in Canada.[17] This young and mostly educated population expanded Canada's arts and academic scenes, and helped push Canadian politics further to the left. Notable Americans who left for Canada and became prominent there include Jay Scott and Michael Hendricks. Other draft evaders from the Vietnam era remain in Europe."

Here is a link that might be useful: wikipedia

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 4:24PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

Prominent?

Who the heck are Jay Scott and Michael Hendricks?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 4:35PM
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chase_gw

"Chase is right, draft evades enrich culture"

I'm pretty sure I didn't say that....

"Who the heck are Jay Scott and Michael Hendricks?".... beats the he!! out of me Hamilton!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 4:59PM
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david52_gw

Jay played forward, Michael was a defenseman. Calgary 1982.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 5:52PM
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chase_gw

Oh, now that's prominent! Maybe if it had been the Leafs! LOL

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 5:59PM
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jmc01

Explication, copied from OP (except I corrected a typo): This gentleman's story is to be admired and he clearly makes no excuses.

Explication complete.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 7:35PM
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pnbrown

Hardly. Is that the point of this thread, to admire him?

Generally, on this board, we like to debate interesting issues. Idly fawning over a random high-achiever isn't very interesting.

Try to up your effort on the next topic.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 7:41PM
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althea_gw

Ahem.

The late Jay Scott is said to be Canada's most influential film critic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Scott

Michael Henricks is a gay rights activist who worked to legalize same sex marriage.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Hendricks

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 7:47PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

The late Jay Scott is said to be Canada's most influential film critic.

Wow. He was a film critic for the Globe and Mail... I gotta wonder who writes these wiki articles sometimes.

Michael Henricks is a gay rights activist who worked to legalize same sex marriage.

Along with hundreds of others..

Everyone I'm asking if they know who Jay Scott or Michael Henricks are, nobody has heard of either of them.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 8:07PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

Jay played forward, Michael was a defenseman. Calgary 1982.

Pfftt.. That explains it.

1982 was all about Edmonton...

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 8:14PM
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chase_gw

"The late Jay Scott is said to be Canada's most influential film critic."

Really, wonder what films he was critiquing....certainly not Canadian films. Never heard of the guy.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 9:26PM
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patriciae_gw(07)

Good god Althea-there is dodging and doging-this man chose not to kill innocent people in Yugoslavia-how can you call him a draft dodger? If someone wants to coral me into a war to murder innocents dont I get points for refusing to do it? You leave me speechless-please do me a favor and google the Yugoslavian wars of the early 1990's and then tell me again you think his being treated as a hero for not participating is some how funny.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 11:09PM
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jmc01

Next time you see a thread that isn't interesting and/or debatable enough for your liking, do feel free to save the time and energy that it took you to post 6 times.

Save that energy to defend the " I can't move because my family needs me, I can't go to school because I'm too old, I don't read books, I want more handouts because I don't get enough, I'm entitled because of my lot in life crowd. Alas, woe is me!"

I'm thrilled to be able to celebrate the achievements of those who get off their a$$, exert some energy, use the talents they are blessed with and make something of themselves, as this fellow did.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 3:41AM
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adoptedbyhounds

"Generally, on this board, we like to debate interesting issues. Idly fawning over a random high-achiever isn't very interesting."

So why are you still here?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 6:12AM
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chase_gw

I think what this fellow accomplished is very admirable. It's a great example of a person who had a bad lot elsewhere finding save haven in the States, getting a job (especially one that involved free education) and then going on to become an American citizen.

Of course some may be annoyed that he took a job from an American, or is this time OK?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 7:26AM
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david52_gw

Actually, I find a lot of questionable things in this story. I get running away from the civil war, and I imagine it wasn't that easy to do. But 7 years to learn English?

But maybe I'm comparing this to a book I read recently, Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder.

"Tracy Kidder gives us the story of one man's inspiring American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him, providing brilliant testament to the power of second chances. Deo arrives in the United States from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing. Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life and shows us what it means to be fully human."

Which I would recommend - gives a good summary of the Rwanda massacre as well. / least we forget

Here is a link that might be useful: amazon linl

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 9:43AM
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althea_gw

Patriciae, it says in the op "An ethnic Albanian and Roman Catholic, he fled Montenegro in 1992 as a brutal civil war loomed. He was about to be drafted into the Yugoslav army led by Serbs, many of whom considered Albanians their enemy."

IOW, he fled to avoid being drafted. He is a draft dodger. My great grandfather came here in part to escape the Austro-Hungarian army. I'm for draft dodging. After all, aren't most (all) wars about killing innocents?

Yes, I'm familiar with the wars in the 90's. I was on a trip in Europe in '93 and found the trains flooded with refugees. The NATO bombings were championed by President Bill Clinton who successfully evaded being drafted into the Vietnam war.

The very same press who is presenting Mr. Filipaj as a hero/role model, was calling the bombings a humanitarian mission. In reality ...

"The logic, widely accepted, is intriguing. Uncontroversially, the vast crimes took place after the bombing began: they were not a cause but a consequence. It requires considerable audacity, therefore, to take the crimes to provide retrospective justification for the actions that contributed to inciting them."

Also of note is the fact that Mr. Filipaj belongs to a union.

A person on the payroll as a member of the full-time or part-time support staff is eligible for the Tuition Exemption Benefit.

Note: The required number of hours in a regularly scheduled part-time work week may vary; union members need to consult the relevant collective bargaining agreement for exact eligibility requirements.

The support staff member must also be actively at work and not on any kind of leave of absence. (For regular MEBA and MM&P employees, periods of time off-vessel are considered active employment.) The staff member must either be in a non-union support staff position or covered under a collective bargaining agreement with one of:

Local 1199/Morningside (Clerical & Cafeteria Units)
Local 2110 UAW
Local 100 (Kitchen & Dining Room Employees)
MEBA, MM&P, SSA (Medical Center)
TWU (Maintenance & Custodial Employees and Security Officers)
http://hr.columbia.edu/benefits/tuition/exemption-supstaff/elig/staff

I agree with Tobr's admonition "American kids should pay heed..." American kids, regardless of the level of education, should get a good union job and avoid war.

Here is a link that might be useful: review

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 10:09AM
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