Achieving the Dream: Retiree Returns to College, Earns His Degree at Age 68

May 8, 2016 was a major milestone for William Mobijohn.

It was the day the Vietnam veteran graduated from Valencia College with an A.S. in medical billing and coding.     

“I finally obtained my degree at 68 years old,” he says, “and my whole family was able to join me at my graduation ceremony.”

The Brooklyn, N.Y. native had always wanted to get a college education, but life kept getting in the way.

After graduating from high school, Mobijohn spent three and a half years in the Navy during the early years of the Vietnam War.

Following his Navy service, Mobijohn worked in a variety of jobs – including a stint as a carpenter’s apprentice in Israel – before landing a position with the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked “off and on” for 32 years. Along the way, the married father of four attended Brooklyn College at night for a few semesters, but “for some inexplicable reason, I stopped going,” he says.

When his wife was lured to Florida by a job opportunity 13 years ago, Mobijohn says, he was technically “retired,” but the leisurely lifestyle never appealed to him.

“I never thought of myself as being retired,” he says. “My father retired at about the same age I did, and a couple of years later he wasn’t around anymore.”

Mobijohn was staying active by running marathons – “about 13 marathons and a great number of half marathons,” he recalls.

Throughout his life, Mobijohn says, he has been propelled by a desire “to become successful at whatever undertaking” he chose.

“He’s always been someone who got motivation out of challenging himself,” says his wife, Sandra. “He spends two to three hours, four or five days a week in the gym. He loves going to the bookstore; he’ll spend two or three hours there just reading.”

Mobijohn has long delighted in memorizing poems – his own and others’ work – and reciting them during open-mic poetry nights.

“He feels that by challenging himself, he keeps his brainpower working,” Sandra says.

Diagnosed with hearing loss related to his Vietnam service, Mobijohn was offered the opportunity to attend college courtesy of the U.S. government.

He chose Valencia because of its reputation, he says, and opted for medical billing and coding because he thought it sounded interesting.

Interesting and challenging, he says.

“A lot of those courses were extremely hard,” he says, “but I never got below an A or B in all my coding classes. I made the dean’s list once and the president’s list once.”

He did struggle with math, he says, especially when he lost his hearing aids for a while.

“It turned out that my dog swallowed them,” he recalls.

Mobijohn is grateful to Valencia’s tutors for helping him with the math and to the college’s Office for Students with Disabilities for providing him with assistance related to his hearing loss.

“Whatever he needed, they made sure it was taken care of,” says Sandra.

Among the services that OSD provides are note takers, priority seating, sign language interpreters, C-Print captioning and Assistive Listening Devices, says Deborah Larew, director of Student Disabilities Services.

Mobijohn used a listening device for his classes. “It was up to me to tell the instructor to put on a microphone,” he says.

“The benefit of an Assistive Listening Device,” says Larew, “is that it allows the person wearing the receiver to focus in on the communication specifically by the person wearing the microphone. In this case, the student would be getting direct communication from the professor amplified into his ears.”

Since graduating, Mobijohn has actually taken some time off to bask in his hard-won success.

“I was able to accomplish my objective,” he says. “What kept me going was I didn’t want to end up falling flat on my face and giving up. I wanted to exercise the virtue of perseverance and stick with it.”