54-Year-Old Custodian Who Worked Nights to Put Himself Through College, Finally Graduates

Image Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Image Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A big congratulations are in order for one man, who, despite being 54 years old, graduated college on May 14, 2016. But being 30 years older than a typical graduate isn’t even half of Michael Vaudreuil’s story.

Back in 2008, in the midst of the recession, Vaudreuil lost the plastering business he had kept up for 24 years. Bankrupt, house foreclosed, car repossessed, and unable to find work in his profession, the married father of three reluctantly took a custodial job at the local college of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, MA.

Accepting the 50 percent pay cut and working the night shift, Vaudreuil did what he had to do to survive. Vaudreuil’s life then took an even more solemn turn when his mother passed away around the same time.

“I was a shell,” Vaudreuil told NBC News. “I didn’t really feel any pain, but I didn’t really feel anything good, either.”

In an effort to pick himself back up again, Vaudreuil started taking the free undergraduate classes he was eligible for as a WPI employee.

“I started taking classes to occupy my time constructively and get my mind off all the crap we were going through. It was one day at a time really,” Vaudreuil explained to The Washington Post. “I felt productive … and it was paying dividends for how it was affecting me personally. A couple years into it I realized that if I kept it up I could get a degree.”

While Vaudreuil started out attending psychology classes, the mid-50-year-old switched to mechanical engineering as a potential degree.

Vaudreuil trudged on, student by day, custodian by night, vacuuming the floors of the classrooms he would sit in the next morning. “I kind of struggle with insomnia. In this case, it had benefits,” he joked to NBC News.

Image Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Image Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Vaudreuil would complete his homework in the early morning before class or in the mid-afternoon before he went to work from 3PM – 11PM. Although the work was hard and the hours were brutal — sometimes only getting four and half hours of sleep — Vaudreuil’s education was just the intellectual stimulation he needed in his life. Reflecting on the past, Vaudreuil confessed to The Washington Post:

“I’m in my mid-40s and I lost everything, this is it for me,” Vaudreuil recalled of years past. “I tried and tried and I failed, so I just have to exist the rest of my life. But the schooling crept up on me and I realized I could do something with my life. It was the only exciting opportunity ahead of me. This is the last train out of the station and I have to get on it and do everything I can to make it work this time.”

And make it work, he did.

After eight years of schooling, Vaudreuil graduated this past Saturday with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in psychology. With a 3.65 GPA and “OLD DOG HAS NEW TRICKS” drawn on his mortarboard, Vaudreuil donned his cap and gown and proudly walked across the stage. He stood in a crowd of bright-eyed graduates almost half his age, but it didn’t matter; he had done it: Vaudreuil turned his life around.

Vaudreuil’s wife, Joyce, and three kids, Paul, Amanda, and Nicole, all attended the graduation on Saturday. In addition to the family support, the WPI president, Laurie A. Leshin gave Vaudreuil a special shout-out in her commencement speech as well:

“Mike could have stopped at any time. But he did not give up,” she said. “And today, at the age of 54, Mike will receive his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. That’s perseverance. Where are you Mike? Let’s give Mike a hand.”

All of us here at Babble are clapping for you, Mike. Your accomplishment is truly something to be proud of.

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