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After 38 years, a college degree at last

David D’Antonio of Arlington high-fives with dean of undergraduate studies Arthur Heinricher upon receiving his diploma from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
David D’Antonio of Arlington high-fives with dean of undergraduate studies Arthur Heinricher upon receiving his diploma from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

In 1980, David D’Antonio was only a few classes short of earning a computer science degree when he ran out of money and was forced to drop out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Thirty-eight years later, the Arlington resident received his long-awaited diploma as well as praise from WPI president Laurie Leshin, who noted his “special amount of perseverance” in her speech honoring the 981 undergraduates at the commencement ceremony on May 12.

“I was completely floored,” said D’Antonio, who then celebrated with a high-five on stage from the dean of undergraduate studies, Arthur Heinricher. “I was nervous and excited, and I’m glad I didn’t trip coming up the stairs.”

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D’Antonio, a Web page developer at Aquent, worked in software development and engineering at companies including Digital Equipment Corporation, CarGurus, and Zipcar after leaving WPI. Not having a degree always bothered him, however, especially after visits with his aunt Molly Shuman, who died a few years ago.

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“She waited a few years until I got financially settled, and then she was always after me about it,” said D’Antonio. “She’d say, ‘I’ll wear a nice dress at your graduation.’”

The impetus for his return to school came in 2016, when D’Antonio’s partner, Rachael Stark, urged him to take design classes at the art school where she worked. When that wasn’t possible, he turned his attention back to WPI.

Needing only to fulfill his original degree requirements, D’Antonio enrolled in his first class that fall. In all, he took courses in visual rhetoric and graphic design, and completed a final humanities and arts project.

Despite the adjustment to new buildings and classmates who “look a lot younger than I remembered them,” D’Antonio says his return to campus was a positive experience. Since finishing his coursework last October, he eagerly anticipated the commencement ceremony. Now he’s contemplating enrolling in a master’s program.

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Aunt Molly, he noted, “would be thrilled.”

“I like to think she was there in spirit,” he said. “There’s so much closure in being able to say I’m a college graduate. Finally.”

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.