Better Late Than Never: 88-Year-Old Finally Gets Degree

By Jessica Easthope

WINDSOR TERRACE ­— The graduating class of 2020 hasn’t had the best luck. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many colleges and universities to hold their ceremonies online. After four years of hard work, most graduates would be disappointed, or even angry, with not receiving proper recognition, but not Pat Branley.

“It doesn’t bother me in the least bit, I’m way, way past that,” he said. “At my age — sitting alone, graduating from college — there are a lot of people sitting alone in a funeral parlor, so I have no complaints.”

Sixty years after dropping out of St. John’s University, the 88-year-old returned this year to finish what he started. In need of just two classes to finish his undergraduate degree, Branley re-enrolled at the Staten Island campus and on May 31 he was finally able to say “I did it.”

“The void has been filled. I always felt that incompletion,” Branley explained.

After graduating high school, he joined the Navy, and after serving our country for four years and taking two more figuring out what he wanted to do next, Branley enrolled at the old St. John’s in Brooklyn before life got in the way.

“I had been a firefighter for about a year and a half and I was going to school then,” he recalled. “It was getting so busy … I couldn’t do both.”

Branley quickly rose within the ranks as a lieutenant in the FDNY, and once he started a family with his wife of 48 years, Betty, he decided to leave school.

However, a piece of him always remained with St. John’s.

“I made the withdrawal physically, but I never made it in my heart or intellectually,” Branley said.

Eventually graduating was the furthest thing from his mind when he left school all those years ago.

“I sat down in a recliner in the living room, by myself because no one could come because of the virus, and I watched the virtual graduation on my iPad,” Branley said.

After reflecting on his college journey, he recalled something he told his four children: “Don’t go to college to prepare for a job. Go so that you can enjoy your time off.”

So now, while most graduates scramble to land their first job and start their careers, Branley will be enjoying his summer off.

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