Discuss as:

Graduation day: Columbia janitor gets degree after 12 years, question popped at UNC, docs party at KU

Charlie Riedel / AP

Graduates in the School of Medicine celebrate during the 140th annual commencement ceremony at the University of Kansas, May 13, in Lawrence, Kan.

Jason DeCrow / AP

Columbia University janitor Gac Filipaj, center, looks on during the Columbia University School of General Studies graduation ceremony, May 13, in New York.

For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out trash at Columbia University.

A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living working for the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics

For Filipaj, the degree comes after years of studying late into the night in his Bronx apartment, where he'd open his books after a 2:30-11 p.m. shift as a "heavy cleaner" - his job title. Before exam time or to finish a paper, he'd pull all-nighters, then go to class in the morning and then to work.

On Sunday morning in the sun-drenched grassy quad of Columbia's Manhattan campus, Filipaj flashed a huge smile and a thumbs-up as he walked off the podium after a handshake from Columbia President Lee Bollinger.

-- Reported by the Associated Press

Read the full story

Gac Filipaj, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, completed his Classics degree with honors after balancing classes with a fulltime custodial job for the past 12 years. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

Takaaki Iwabu / The News & Observer via AP

Maura Mayorga, standing right, and Michael Wengenroth embrace after getting engaged during the University of North Carolina's 2012 commencement in Chapel Hill, N.C., May 12. About 5,700 students graduated.