How Much Laude Can You Get?

University of Wyoming 1908. The main building still stands today.

I attended the University of Wyoming for one semester in 1975.  At least I think it was 1975.  More correctly, I attended one class, one semester at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.  It was a required writing class.  Creative Writing 101.  I got an A. (Yeah, bragging.)

I was living in Laramie, Wyoming, while working full-time for Mountain Bell.  My intention was to finish my degree in Communications, one class at a time.  In fact, on my lunch hour, because there was no night or weekend classes at UW, period, and, of course, an online curriculum was still a few decades into the future.  I had transferred to Laramie with the express intention of finishing my degree, but failed to check the availability of off- hour classes before I made the leap.  I had been forced to drop out of college after only completing a year and one semester.  We won’t go into the “why” at this point.

Anyway, after one class, one semester, I saw the impossibility of the undertaking.  It was going to take me a long time to garner enough credits to graduate.  But then, today, I read that someone is graduating summa cum laude from Iowa State University taking one class a semester for 19 years!  Kathy Vitzthum, 48, is graduating in May, the school says, after attending one class each semester since 1992.  WTF

Talk about dedication.  I had a college astronomy professor, whom I really liked and respected, tell me once that there were only two reasons to get an undergraduate degree.  “So you can prove to the world that you can start something and finish it,” he said, “and to learn how to look things up in the library.”  Pretty true statements I think.  Now you spend more time on the Internet looking things up and it’s much easier than the library, so that only leaves the first part about proving you can finish something.  Working at it for 19 years is a pretty impressive way to prove that.

When I finally finished up my BA degree in Journalism, at the University of New Mexico, I was taking seven to eight classes a semester.  A little more difficult to graduate “summa cum laude” I would think.  That’s latin for “with highest praise”.  In order to graduate with a latin honor such as this, you would need to maintain some serious high GPA and be in the top 4-5% of your class.  A grade point average on the high side of 3.8, although it differs from school to school.  If I’m only taking one class a semester, I think I could pull that off, even if it did take 19 years. (Yeah, tinge of jealousy exhibited.) 

But here’s what I don’t understand.  Even though her company paid for all or a percentage of the classes, I’m sure, (Mountain Bell paid 75% of tuition if you maintained a C average) what benefit will she get from having a BA degree in Accounting?  She is already a senior accountant at the firm where she works!  She’s been working in the accounting field for well over 20 years.  She initially took the classes because her boss offered her a promotion if she did.

 I quit my job after 5 years with Ma Bell and went back to school to finish my degree.  I accomplished that 10 years after I originally started college.  I did it with the idea that a degree would open up opportunities for me to get a better job and get into something I really wanted to do.

I was a lot more serious about it than I was at age 20, so I worked harder to get the grades.  I graduated “with distinction” (Yeah, bragging again.) which translates to the upper 10-12% of my graduating class.  The same as a latin honor of “cum laude.”  Hasn’t opened one door for me.  Let me say that again.  It hasn’t opened one door for me.  The BA degree lets me send my résumé for jobs that have a minimum college requirement, but then I don’t know of any company that ever pulled my transcripts.  So the GPA means nothing.  If I wanted to go on to graduate school, or law school, or med school, yeah, it would mean something.  In the job search, nope. 

So I just wanted to say “congratulations” to Kathy Vitzthum for proving to the world that she could start something and finish it…..and for doing it with the greatest of dedication and summa cum laude.


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