Janitor Graduates from Columbia After 19 Years

Monday, May 14, 2012

In the early 1990s when Yugoslavia was being torn apart by civil war, Gac Filipaj decided to get out. He fled to New York City and became a custodian at Columbia University, knowing it was the best higher-education institution around. After learning some English, Filipaj began taking morning classes before his 8-hour janitorial shifts afternoon. And this real-life "Good Will Hunting" story has a happy ending: after 19 years as a student and a janitor, Filipaj has graduated at the top of his class with a major in Classics.


Gac Filipaj

Produced by:

Joe Hernandez

Comments [4]


Not an usual story for an Albanian. They like education and learning!

May. 17 2012 05:44 PM

Wow many will think thats a long time, but think about it for a minute .............. He has no rich daddy, he sends money to his family back home, he has no time to lose, he does not go to spring break, and he manage all that on his own? ... Way to go dude ... Take sometime off now ... Florida is nice this time of the year

May. 14 2012 11:43 AM
Nina from Boston, MA

Dear Take Away Producers:

RE: The Day After Mother's Day

Congratulations to Mr. Gac Filipaj on his recent graduation from Columbia University. Studying is not easy and twelve years is a long time after escaping a war torn country. How tremendous that he graduated at the top of his class from Columbia University and was able to benefit from such an opportunity. Mr. Filipaj's success, encourages me to remember with fondness and sadness my own Mother's journey on this day after Mother's Day. I would like to share it with you.

Born in North Philadelphia, in the 1930's, an excellent student, my Mother received a full scholarship to Temple University. However, her Mother, in keeping with the times discouraged her with the comment, "Why do you need College, you're a girl." My Grandmother was born in the late 1800's, married with twelve children and although she ran a small business and was a Church Matriarch; marriage and children were always a woman's priority in her mind.

After marrying my Father and bearing five children my Mother decided to pursue her dream of College while raising children and later also working outside the home, she began to take classes. This was 1963. Twenty years later, after moving around the country with my nomadic Father, she graduated with honors and went on to pursue her Masters. One of her sons died, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she graduated with Honors, applied and was awarded a Fulbright in Mexico and then began to teach English as a Second Language at the College level in Boston.

Sadly she succumbed to cancer and transitioned in 1997, but not without first creating tremendous value in the lives of thousands of people globally and inspiring me to do my best in life. I have been an award winning television/radio producer and host for many years and now teach College to students who work full-time jobs, raise families and attend school in the evening. the full circle of life is being realized yet again by me because of your story on Gac Filipaj. I continue to honor my Mother, not just on Mother's Day but everyday.

Thank you for your story
in Boston

May. 14 2012 07:18 AM

Wow, what a terrific story for a Monday morning. A true lesson in perseverance!

May. 14 2012 06:48 AM

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