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An 88-year-old World War II veteran has finally completed a lifelong dream.
On Saturday, Allen Fleming graduated from college.
Fleming was a fighter pilot and bomber in the Navy when he was younger. He then became a successful advertising executive in Florida and a father to five children. However, through all his successes, there was something Fleming still dreamed of doing – getting a college degree.
“It was a personal journey that began long ago, after the war,” Fleming said. “It was always on my heart to finish my degree, but my kids took priority, and life just always seemed to get in the way.”
In the '40s, Fleming attended four different universities while in the service but never completed his degree. His kids said they never knew he didn’t have a degree until four years ago, when he decided to go back to school.
“I always knew it was something I needed to do,” Fleming said. “I wanted to show everyone that it’s always possible to finish your dream.”
Fleming enrolled at the University of North Georgia, which was no easy feat. Before enrolling, he had to gather all his old transcripts from the '40s. After tracking them all down across several states, he was accepted and began working toward his dream.
Fleming suffered a stroke and several health issues while attending college, but always pushed through with the help of his wife, Janet. Fleming said Janet drove him to school and carried his books to his classroom when he couldn’t do it on his own.
He said school and the assignments were a lot different than in the '40s, but there was always someone willing to help him out – especially when it came to computers and technology.
“I’ve always been a pen-and-paper man,” Fleming said.
He didn’t give that up, writing every assignment on paper before transferring it to the computer with the help of his classmates.
He said he didn’t enjoy the math or diagramming sentences, and he constantly cursed at his computer. Even so, he said he was always determined to finish what he started.
Four years later, on Saturday, Fleming’s wife, five children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren watched as he walked across the stage and received his diploma for a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and a minor in journalism. His family said he received two standing ovations.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was excited and just so thankful to everyone who helped me along the way,” Fleming said.
He said the hardest part of the whole journey may have been the stairs at the end.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it up and down the stairs to that stage,” he said.
With the help of others, Fleming not only made it onto the stage but also completed a lifelong goal.
“We are so incredibly proud of him,” said his daughter, Juli Angert. “I am a high school English teacher working on my doctorate, and my father has inspired me my entire life. He is the reason I teach.”
Fleming said that’s one of the main reasons he undertook this journey: to inspire others.
“I hope that I can inspire future generations to complete higher education,” he said.
Fleming said he was not only proud of himself but also every single person who graduated alongside him.
“This is something you can achieve. It’s never impossible,” he said.
So what’s next? Fleming said maybe a master’s degree and completing some of his other goals, such as skydiving on his 90th birthday in two years.