Over a span of 45 years, Jim Boyd built a successful career in broadcast television, starting in the mail room at a public station in New York and eventually finding a home in front of the camera.
He traveled around the world to cover stories and met a producer who became his wife. He went on to become one of the first African-Americans to become a regular local news anchor in Boston, at WCVB-TV, where he was known for his personable, straightforward style.
But there was one goal that eluded him: earning a college degree.
That will change Sunday, when Boyd, 71, is set to don cap and gown and walk to the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Tufts University.
For Boyd, who says he was kicked out of Long Island University in 1961 because of poor grades, it is the fulfillment of a dream deferred.
“That’s an embarrassment, it’s unfinished business, it represents a failure in my life,” Boyd said in an interview earlier this week. “When I decided to retire from television, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to go back to school and get my degree.”
Boyd stepped down from WCVB, Boston’s ABC affiliate, in 2008, and started his quest by taking two classes at UMass Boston that spring. He switched to Tufts after one semester when he learned about the college’s Resumed Education for Adult Learning program, and has taken two courses per semester at the main campus in Medford and Somerville, along with some summer courses. There were opportunities to take courses online, but he elected to commute from his home in Needham to the campus for every class, immersing himself in the college experience.
“You need to do things a little differently; you need to process things a little differently to be a good student,” Boyd said. “There was something very refreshing about going into a college classroom, to and sit and ponder and think and digest. I really got to explore some things.”
Paul Joseph, Boyd’s professor in a class on “War and Peace,” said Boyd often lingered after class, continuing discussions about material with his much younger cohorts.
Boyd had a personal perspective on some of the course material, Joseph said, having traveled to Vietnam in the 1960s as a producer for WNET, a New York public TV station he worked for before coming to Boston.
“It was a real asset to have someone in the class who had lived through that,” Joseph said. “And in the case of Vietnam, had actually been there himself.”
The adult-learning program at Tufts is tailored to older students, but most in the program are in their late 20s or early 30s, Joseph said. Few return to school as late as Boyd did.
“He was remarkable — courageous is the word that comes to mind,” Joseph said.
The hard work paid off: Boyd is graduating with a 3.31 grade point average, and a 3.5 grade point average in sociology courses, he said.
Going back to school was not easy for Boyd, who grew up in New York, the son of a letter carrier and a secretary. The reading material in some classes was voluminous and dense. He said he struggled with statistics, a requirement for his initial major, psychology. And writing college papers was a far cry from crafting punchy TV news bulletins.
But Boyd had plenty of help at home. His wife, Linda Polach, now a producer for “Greater Boston” with Emily Rooney on WGBH, is a former high school English teacher. His youngest daughter, Olivia, who graduated from Cornell University last year, also provided help and support.
“[Olivia] had to rip apart a couple of my essays, I couldn’t recognize them she had so much stuff scratched over the pages,” Boyd said with a laugh. “My wife was a little more patient, she had a bit of a teacher’s touch.”
Polach recalled the day Boyd told her he planned to return to college.
“One morning, he said, ‘I am going to retire,’ ” she said. “And in the same sentence, he said, ‘I know what I want to do.’ ”
Since then, she has been along for the ride.
“It’s been really fascinating to see him immerse himself into something so different from what he did for a living, and enjoy something that, quite honestly, a lot of people take for granted,” she said. “To see someone so intellectually engaged is wonderful. It’s like somebody opened up a new world for him.”
Susan Wornick, who co-anchored the WCVB midday newscast with Boyd for 20 years, said she was not surprised to find out he planned to go back to school and that he had reached his goal.
“I knew Jim to be an excellent role model,” Wornick said. “What a lot of people don’t know is that he spent a considerable amount of time with kids in Boston public schools. He was always one of the most amazing ambassadors. It made perfect sense that he would do exactly what he told the kids to do and better himself.”
While he knew exactly what he would do upon retiring from television, the future is not as clear for Boyd.
He would like to stay in the classroom, possibly as a teacher or lecturer. Whatever he ends up doing, he said he hopes he can serve as an inspiration.
“I have been able to accomplish something I’ve been reaching for, striving for an entire lifetime,” he said. “If there was anything I’d like to shout for the rooftops, it’s, ‘Folks, if I can do it you can do it.’ ”