Nightly News | May 09, 2012
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Finally tonight, a purely inspiring story of success and drive. A man whose persistence and desire to make a better life for himself gives a whole new meaning to the term "work study." Our chief education correspondent Rehema Ellis has his story.
REHEMA ELLIS reporting: Nearly 20 years ago, Gac Filipaj left his family in the former war-ravaged Yugoslavia , heading to America with no money, no job, and no English-speaking skills.
Mr. GAC FILIPAJ: I moved to escape from the political problems.
ELLIS: Filipaj landed a job at Columbia University mopping floors, cleaning mirrors and emptying the trash. Is this your cart?
Mr. FILIPAJ: That's my cart.
ELLIS: That custodial job turned into an education in the classics, and now an Ivy League degree.
Mr. FILIPAJ: The hardest for me was and still is elementary ancient Greek .
ELLIS: The now 52-year-old was accepted into Columbia School of General Studies back in 2000 and took advantage of free courses for employees. Filipaj says juggling a full-time job and one or two courses a semester got exhausting at times. He typically took morning classes so he could work the night shift till 11 PM , then he had to commute home.
Mr. FILIPAJ: Many times I did not sleep at all, especially when I had to write papers.
ELLIS: But he says it was worth it. Sunday, the custodian will receive a classics degree from the prestigious university, graduating with honors.
Unidentified Man: He's an inspiration for, you know, for the wider community.
Mr. FILIPAJ: I would like that people when they look at me and at this age, that I graduated, they do not feel ashamed to go to school.
ELLIS: Capping a 20-year journey of learning valuable lessons by teaching. Rehema Ellis, NBC News, New