A degree 56 years in the making

At the St. Thomas commencement ceremony Saturday, 75-year-old James Garber will receive his long-awaited diploma.

“I feel little weird because I expect I’ll be the oldest person there,” Garber said. “But it’ll be fun.”

Garber will receive an individualized major in philosophy and classic civilizations. It’s a degree 56 years in making since Garber started as a student at St. Thomas in 1953.

However, that doesn’t mean Garber has been slacking the last half century. This major will be added to a long list of degrees, including two bachelor’s, two master’s, a doctorate and a medical doctorate. Not to mention Garber is currently completing a master’s in theology.

When Garber was a student at St. Thomas, only three years of pre-med courses were required for medical school. So when Garber left St. Thomas to attend medical school at the University of Minnesota, he left without a degree.

Motivated by a interest in philosophy and an urge to receive his degree, Garber continued to take classes over the years.

Garber attended his 50th class reunion at St. Thomas four years ago and decided to start inquiring about receiving his degree.

“I think they were a little hesitant at first,” Garber said. “They were willing to look at it, though. They were friendly enough.”

After talking to the counseling department, Garber was in touch with Michael Jordan, director of undergraduate academic affairs.

Jordan said after he learned that Garber continued to undergraduate courses over the years at other schools, he saw that many of the course were in the area of philosophy and classics.

“I asked the committee on studies if they would approve an individualized major in philosophy and classics for Jim, drawing upon his St. Thomas courses and his UST courses,” Jordan said. “The committee agreed that the courses he had taken fit together well to form an individualized major and approved the request.”

Garber said after his degree was finalized, with encouragement from his children and grandchildren, he decided to walk with this year’s graduating class.

Garber said the biggest change to St. Thomas since he attended in 1956 is the size.

“It was a smallish kind of campus,” Garber said. “Friendships were easy to come by, especially being on campus.”

As a freshman, Garber lived in Ireland Hall, and he said he still keeps in touch with some of the friends he made. Two will watch Garber graduate Saturday.

“I really enjoyed my time at St. Thomas,” Garber said. “It was the time when I was sort of beginning to become adult and feeling a little bit more as if I was moving in to the real world.”

As a Tommie, Garber said he has fond memories of cheering on the sports teams. He said the first year he was in medical school, he made it back to St. Thomas to watch the undefeated football team play.

Garber said he and his classmates also went to dances at St. Catherine’s

“I dated a lot of the Katie’s,” Garber said. “Back then it was an all males school, so we dated the women that were at St. Catherine’s. It was fun. It was a fun time.”

Kelly Trussell can be reached at kmtrussell@stthoms.edu.

3 Replies to “A degree 56 years in the making”

  1. When I saw the title I thought this person went back and took some classes. Having a degree is important though and I’m proof it is never too late. I cam back to UST after about a 10 year break to finish my degree. Doing so at St. Thomas was very important to me. I thought about skipping out on the ceremony but I’ll be there as well.

  2. What an inspiring story about life time learning! If you (or someone you know) is interested in finding out what it takes to complete a UST degree that they started but stopped-out before finishing – call Academic Counseling at 651-962-6300 and ask to meet with a counselor to review your record and learn about the Former Student Returning process.

  3. I’m so proud of you, Mr. Garber. Congratulations! What an inspiration you are to the rest of us. Blessings, Shari (St. Thomas MBA)

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