72-year-old man becomes the first of 7 siblings to graduate college

Video shared by the college shows Sam Kaplan, 72, walk across the stage on May 11 to receive his degree. (Source: Georgia Gwinnett College / MAGNIFI U /TMX)
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 1:56 PM CDT
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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (Gray News/TMX) – A 72-year-old man became the first of his seven siblings to earn an undergraduate degree when he graduated from Georgia Gwinnett College earlier this month.

Video shared by the college shows Sam Kaplan walk across the stage May 11 to receive his degree in Cinema and Media Arts.

His 99-year-old mother was in the crowd cheering him on.

“She’s very excited,” Kaplan said of his mother. “She’s excited, happy and proud.”

According to a news release, Kaplan was 68 when he heard a radio advertisement for Georgia Gwinnett College, offering a degree program that involved script writing.

“Five minutes later, I was registering for the fall semester,” Kaplan said.

After graduating high school in 1969, Kaplan said he never considered college. The father of five held a variety of jobs over the years, including running a cleaning service, a telemarketing company and even driving a taxi.

Being an older student came with challenges – Kaplan had to adjust to a classroom again, as he hadn’t set foot in one in more than 50 years. But he was determined to connect with his younger classmates and form friendships.

“When you ask a student about what they want and plan on doing and find out what they want to do with their lives; I think that’s uncommon with a lot of kids – they don’t get that with people,” Kaplan said. “I think I have a good relationship with them. I got hugs from a lot of them on the last day of classes.”

The college said Kaplan was also popular among faculty.

Kate Balsley, associate professor of film who taught Kaplan in multiple classes, said he would always participate in class and offer advice and assistance to his classmates.

“Sam was always willing to share photos and stories about his interesting life and his family,” Balsley said. “We’re so proud to see him graduate, but we will miss him.”