US university cleaner graduates with honours after 12 years of study
A 52-year-old cleaner at the Columbia University originally from Montenrgro, has graduated from college in the US after 12 years of full-time work and part-time study.
After 12 years of balancing his studies with his full-time job at the world-renowned university, Gac Filipaj finally has his moment in the sun as he graduated with honours from the Ivy League institution.
In 1992, Mr Filipaj, an ethnic Albanian, had left Montenegro, then a Yugoslav republic facing a brutal civil war, for New York City, where his uncle offered him shelter while he worked at a restaurant.
Twenty years later Mr Filipaj donned a cap and gown to graduate from the prestigious New York City-based university with a bachelor's degree in classics after his job with the college made him eligible for the institution's tuition-exemption programme for staff.
After the ceremony, the delighted graduate revealed that the degree followed years of late night study in his Bronx apartment, where he would open his books after his finishing his night shift as a cleaner on the college's campus and the pressure of essay deadlines and exam revision would often see him go without sleep.
"The first barrier is the language, because I didn't speak the language before," said Mr Filipaj, who could only speak Albanian when he first arrived in the US.
"And then it's not that easy to find a job. But I got very lucky that I worked here, I've been working here. So the job gave me a tuition exemption, otherwise I don't know if I would be able to (finish my studies)," Mr Filipaj, who still sends part of his pay back to his family in Montenegro, said.
He added that he will be back at work later this week, and said he hopes to continue his studies.
"I would like to stay working here to find a better job here and to go to school here. If I can't make that, then I will look for other options," he said.