UMaine student’s journey to graduation is 52 years in the making

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 5:58 PM EDT
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ORONO, Maine (WABI) - One University of Maine graduate this year began his collegiate journey well before the rest of the class of 2023 was born.

John Cyrus is 70 years old and has earned an undergraduate degree in microbiology.

“I’m so excited for (Saturday),” Cyrus said. “I’m going to actually get that diploma! What’s kind of cool, too, is my oldest granddaughter graduates from Lawrence this year.”

“I think it was his passion for science that brought him here at this age,” one of his classmates said.

“I love being a problem solver and doing things like that,” Cyrus said.

Cyrus’s journey to get here has seen plenty of starts and stops. He was set to attend Rutgers University in 1971, but a serious car crash left him unable to attend.

“My atlas bone had fractured,” Cyrus said. “I should have been dead.”

When he recovered, he was drafted into the Vietnam War and served as an Air Force lab tech. By 1976, he was just nine credits away from graduating, but then...

“I had a lab accident, I came down with mono and had to drop out,” Cyrus said. “Well, I never got around to getting back.”

After a career spent in labs and at the Jay paper mill, Cyrus retired in 2012, and needed something to do.

“I got to thinking, I’d like to go back,” Cyrus said. “I’ve got time now, why don’t I go back to school? Being back in the lab, I mean, the lab has always been my first love.”

He’s certainly made an impression on his younger classmates.

“John is an interesting guy,” graduate student Nicholas Leclerc said. “He’s a very nice guy. He just keeps on going, he’s really driven, he loves what he’s doing. And it really shows just in how he acts and how he’s enthusiastic about what he’s doing in our lab.”

Cyrus’s academic journey isn’t stopping here.

“I’ve been accepted to grad school here,” Cyrus said. So, I’m working for my PhD after this, which I’ll have probably when I’m 75.”

As for lessons learned?

“Find the time, make the time,” Cyrus said. “Work and stuff is always there, just be able to go out and enjoy life, enjoy the world around you, experience some of the beauty. Go out there and live.”

Advice fit for a commencement speech.