MIAMI (CBS4)- When Richard Smith was born, Calvin Coolidge was president and the foxtrot was king.
On Saturday, the 87-year-old, World War II veteran became the oldest person ever to graduate from FIU, and with a doctorate in history.
Smith, who was among more than 3,400 students receiving their degrees this summer, participated in one of three commencement ceremonies on Saturday at the U.S. Century Bank Arena. The ceremonies were held on FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus at 11200 SW 8th Street in southwest Miami-Dade.
Smith, born in Boston on October 12, 1923, said it’s never too late to go back to school.
“Completing this Ph.D. is one of my proudest moments,” said Smith, who completed his dissertation on John Sherman, the lesser known brother of Civil War General William Sherman. “Anyone out there who thinks it is too late to go back to school, I’m here to tell them it’s not and it’s worth it.”
Smith said his dissertation is about Sherman and the Republican party during the late Civil War.
“It was a very difficult dissertation to write because of the lack of information,” he said. “It was a good three to four years to get it accomplished.”
Smith, who enrolled in the program when he was already in his 80s, had finished his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania before he was called into the Air Corps and sent to fight in Europe. There, he was on the crew of a B-24 that bombed Germany and also dropped supplies and spies over Norway, Denmark and Sweden. For his service, Smith received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, among other recognitions.
After the war, Smith finished his bachelor’s degree, married, had three children and ran a successful women’s clothing company founded by his father.
“I take great pride in what I have accomplished,” he said. “I believe that the most important thing for seniors like myself is keeping that brain going.”
FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg said he admires Smith’s passion and courage.
“Each commencement brings new stories of Panthers turning the impossible into the inevitable,” said Rosenberg. “To have a member of the Greatest Generation with us on Saturday fills us with pride and admiration for a man whose courage and passion for learning led him to this tremendous achievement.”
The ceremony was FIU’s first summer commencement. More ceremonies have been added to accommodate the growing number of students graduating, which is up to nearly 10,000 graduates this year compared to 7,200 five years ago.
Other Worlds Ahead graduates whose accomplishments will be recognized during the three ceremonies include an engineering student whose research looks to improve orthopedic implants, a nursing student who is going back to the classroom as a professor and students who distinguished themselves in business.