From war-time Yugoslavia to Ivy League graduate

May 8, 2012 3:07:54 PM PDT
Gac Filipaj came to New York City from the former Yugoslavia in wartime speaking no English.

His commute is a total 3 hours a day. He says he smokes too much and sleeps too little, but he will soon be an Ivy League graduate.

"Yes and I am proud and I am extremely happy," he said.

And he's graduating with honors. It has taken him 12 years. First he had to learn English, and then at age 40 he entered college at Columbia University. He carries his backpack alongside the nation's brightest, valedictorians from across America, and he cleans the bathrooms here.

The dean is blown away by gats, and proud of Columbia for offering free tuition to its employees that make the grade.

His only regret is that his father died 3 weeks ago and didn't know he was doing this.

To all of us born here -

"Whoever wants to work 2 or 3 jobs, you can. My country, even if you want so bad to work - no. No jobs," he said.

Gac Filipaj, now 52, graduates with honors from Columbia University on Sunday.

Get Eyewitness News Delivered

Facebook | Twitter | Newsletters | Text Alerts