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A Journey of Perseverance: One Student’s 37-Year Quest for a Diploma

Meet Bob Schwartz, a student who returned to NC State 37 years later to receive his diploma.

Schwartz with his mother in 1987 and his sister in 2024.

In a world where education is often taken for granted, stories of perseverance and determination remind us of the true value of achievement. Imagine the emotional rollercoaster of a student who walked the graduation stage in 1987, only to leave without the tangible proof of his accomplishment. Fast-forward 37 years, and that same student returns to Reynolds Coliseum to fulfill a promise to himself and his family. 

This is not just a tale of receiving a diploma, it is a narrative of resilience, the power of never giving up and the profound impact that education can have on our lives. Bob Schwartz shares with us his journey that proves it’s never too late to achieve your dreams.

When Schwartz stepped onto the graduation stage in 1987 to receive his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, he was unaware that his journey to obtaining his diploma was far from over. As a transfer student from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), he believed he had completed all the necessary requirements by May 1987.

“I basically had completed all of my work up to May of 1987,” he recalls. “About ten days before my graduation, my counselor called me in and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a major problem. There is a requirement that you did not fulfill.’ I thought I had fulfilled that from my time at UNCC.”

In a rush of confusion and concern, Schwartz met with the dean at the time, explaining the predicament and the impending arrival of his family for the graduation ceremony. The dean reassured him, suggesting that he attend the graduation and return later to discuss his diploma. Unfortunately, life had other plans. Three weeks later, he moved to Atlanta to start a new job at the age of 24, putting his diploma issues on the back burner. 

“I basically just had in the back of my mind, I gotta go back to Raleigh and see about getting my diploma,” he reflects. This thought lingered for decades until the summer of 2023, when he decided to reach out to Dean Buckless, expressing his desire to fulfill his obligation and finally obtain his diploma.

“I always felt like I was part of the pack, the Wolfpack, but without my diploma, I guess I was more of a lone wolf,” he says.

From there, with the assistance of Megan Grubb, Poole College’s former associate director of curriculum and academic programs, and Terry Price, student records and academic programs coordinator, the journey to resolve his educational records began. One significant challenge was obtaining transcripts from UNCC and Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), where he had taken a few summer courses. The passage of time had complicated matters, as transcripts from the 1980s were not easily accessible. Adding to the difficulty, a major hack at CPCC in 2000 had resulted in the loss of many records.

“Bob had already begun the process of completing his degree with Jason DeRousie and Megan Grubb,” shared Price. “I assisted with the final stretch of making sure Bob would be able to participate in the commencement ceremonies and receive his well deserved diploma.”

“They had to go back into the archives,” Schwartz explained. “They went through what was called microfiche, which is kind of like slide records that they keep in archives, before the world went digital.”

Despite these challenges, the diligent work of Megan Grubb and Terry Price paid off. By February 2024, all the necessary records were found and submitted, and Schwartz was informed that he was finally ready to receive his diploma.

Schwartz with his mother in 1987 and his sister in 2024.

In May 2024, 37 years after his first walk across the stage, Schwartz returned to his alma mater to complete what he had started. This time, the walk was not just a formality but a celebration of perseverance, determination and the unwavering belief that it is never too late to achieve one’s dreams. However, the joyous occasion was tempered by personal sorrow.

“Originally, more family members were meant to come to my second commencement, but many of them had to travel to Greensboro to visit my older sister, who was in hospice,” Schwartz shared. “So I only had one family member in the audience that day, my sister Mary, who I am very close with. While there was a lot of joy that weekend, at the same time we were feeling a lot of sorrow with what was going on with our older sister.”

Despite the bittersweet circumstances, Schwartz and Mary made the most of their time in Raleigh. For Mary it was her first visit to the city, and “Bobby,” as she affectionately refers to her brother, took the opportunity to show her around. In a poignant moment of nostalgia, they discovered that the house he lived in back in 1987 was still standing. They recreated a cherished photo taken in front of the house with their mother on his original graduation day, this time with Mary by his side.

“Mary and I still managed to have a great day in Raleigh,” he says. “Recreating that picture with my sister in front of that house was a beautiful moment, connecting the past and present in a way that felt deeply meaningful.”

Schwartz’s journey serves as an inspiring reminder that obstacles can be overcome, and with persistence we can reach the milestones we set out to achieve, no matter how long it takes. 

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.