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WWII veteran graduates from UNG at 88

POSTED: August 2, 2014 10:09 p.m.

Allen Fleming's family and other guests applaud the 88-year-old Saturday as he takes the stage to receive his diploma at UNG in Dahlonega.

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Not so for 88-year-old Allen Fleming, a veteran and father of five who graduated from the University of North Georgia on Saturday — a whopping 67 years after enrolling in his first college course.

Fleming served as an aviation cadet in the Navy during World War II and enrolled at the University of Georgia when the war ended in 1947.

He attended several other colleges for military training and went on to serve in the Army during the Korean War, but he didn’t get the chance to complete his degree, opting instead to support his family by entering the civilian workforce.

Now that he’s retired and his children have completed their degrees, Fleming has returned to school to complete his goal of nearly seven decades ago.

Fleming took advantage of the free tuition offered to residents older than 62 by the University System of Georgia, and is now the proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in English.

“I’m going to blow it up and paste it on my wall so everyone can see that I have it,” joked Fleming, who said he does not plan to use the degree to pursue work. He said he’s done enough of that already.

“Oh my goodness. I’ve had careers,” he said. “I’ve just tried to keep busy.”

His long list of jobs includes work as a sales manager for Sears, as the owner of his own advertising and public relations agency, a student adviser at the University of South Florida, a part-time mail carrier, a Wal-Mart greeter and as a stringer for The Times.

Fleming waited until his children had finished school before he returned to campus himself in 2011.

“I have five children all of whom I’ve encouraged to get college degrees,” he said while surrounded by family members on Friday. “I figured I might as well get a piece of paper myself.”

The hardest thing about returning to school, he said, was learning all of the new technology.

“When I was growing up, the high-tech stuff was the telephone,” he said, but he was able to learn 21st century technology with the help of “a lot of younger people,” including his fellow UNG students.

“The most rewarding thing for me was working with the kids,” he said, “getting to know them and getting support and help from them ... seeing their aspirations and their gumption and get-up-and-go.”

Fleming said he also struggled with memorization.

“I have discovered that aging absolutely does reduce your capability to remember and recall,” he said. “I used to be able to recall things, recite poems and all that.”

Perhaps the greatest struggle of his college career, though, was a stroke that almost forced him to drop out. It’s thanks to his wife, Janet, he said, he was able to complete his degree.

“She encouraged me and helped me keep going,” he said. “She would proofread for me and help me with my (Spanish language) flashcards.”

It was a challenge, he said, but that was part of the appeal.

“That’s one thing I’ve always sort of done, is I’ve looked forward to things when people say, ‘You can’t do this,’” he said. “I’m a butt-headed guy so I went ahead and did it.”

Now, Fleming says he and his wife plan to travel and visit relatives.

“We’ve got family scattered all over this great land of ours,” he said.

He also has some advice for others who want a degree but haven’t been able to pursue one: “I would encourage them to go back, because things can change so fast. There’s new information and new technology, and we’re in a global society now.”


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