The journey is its own reward



When the name Michael Sweeney Graham was called out at University of Nevada, Reno commencement on May 16, it was little noticed except among his family and friends. But it was a journey’s benchmark that began in 1964 when the Manogue High graduate entered what was then simply the University of Nevada as a nuclear engineering major.

The first interruption of his college years was self-inflicted.

“I flunked out,” he said last week.

Uncle Sam was right there to pounce when he lost his student deferment, and in the Army he was trained as a helicopter crew chief—a job that seemed likely to be a greased track to Vietnam. But luck was with him, and he spent his tour in Germany.

Back at what was now UNR, he spent a year as Sagebrush editor and migrated away from his original major. But when it came time to graduate in journalism, he choked on the foreign language requirement the campus inflicts on every graduate. So he just kept studying, turning to other majors—psychology, anthropology—sometimes completing the graduation requisites and racking up a huge number of credits in 55 years but always running up against the language requirement.

His failure to take a degree bothered his family and friends more than it did him. He seemed to take an old fashioned pleasure in learning for its own sake, even when he plunged into fields unrelated to any career goals. His career was as eclectic as his study choices as he worked as a computer consultant, Sparks Nugget banquet captain, Nevada Appeal reporter.

Finally, he outlasted the problem and was able to graduate without having to take a language because he is a senior citizen—age 74.

As word spread of his approaching graduation, events were planned for him. A former UNR student body officer traveled from Colorado to join a former Nevada regent, a former college roommate, and his family—including a daughter and granddaughter—at a lunch for him just before the ceremony, and another celebration later this year is planned by his daughter.

The former regent asked him, “How many people do you think are stopped from graduating by the language requirement?”

“A lot,” he replied.

His daughter inscribed “Finally/Class of 2019” in gold on his mortarboard.

Graham is now taking graduate courses. His lifelong learning continues.