NICHOLASVILLE — Forty-nine years after he took his last class at the University of Kentucky, Glenn Wilson of Nicholasville will receive his degree Friday at UK's first winter commencement.
Wilson, 77, of Nicholasville, took classes for 41/2 years at UK, finishing in 1961. But he left school to find a job so he could pay for living expenses and medical bills.
Wilson never lost his intellectual curiosity but, for almost five decades, he assumed he could not identify himself as a UK graduate. He was wrong.
Wilson will receive a bachelor's degree at UK's commencement.
Although many other universities offer winter commencements, this is UK's first for graduates who earn their degrees in August and December. The number of students who finish in those months has grown over the years and now accounts for 41 percent of graduates, according to university tallies.
After leaving UK, Wilson went on to a long career with IBM as a financial analyst, and, after retirement, as a volunteer with Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour.
Now that he has given up the heavy labor involved in setting up the radio show, he concentrates on his family, including wife Anna, two sons, a daughter and three granddaughters. A half-finished crossword puzzle sits on his kitchen table.
"I've got a stack of books downstairs to read yet," Wilson said.
His major at UK was English, his minor biology. Wilson still has his transcript, showing classes including poetry, the Renaissance and geography.
Earlier this year, a friend — retired teacher David Campbell — urged Wilson to contact UK to see whether he had earned a degree. Wilson had never realized he had to apply for a degree; he just assumed that if he had earned one, UK would have let him know.
"I said, 'Hey, out of all that, you have to have something out of it,' " Campbell said. " 'You have to pursue it.' "
Wilson, a Jessamine County native born in a house without electricity or running water, attended UK with benefits from the GI Bill. He joined the Army in 1954 and served in the Far East while working in the Signal Corps.
Some of Wilson's most vivid memories include being afloat in a perfectly still Pacific Ocean and lying in an Army bunk in Okinawa, where he realized that the GI Bill would pay for college.
"I could not wait to get back to the United States to enroll at UK," Wilson said.
On Wednesday, he modeled his graduation gear in his split-foyer house in Nicholasville: his black UK gown, black mortarboard and the red, white and blue veterans cord draped around the neck.
He will celebrate his degree Friday amid a throng of graduating seniors in their 20s.
Although he didn't initially plan to go through commencement, Wilson will be happy to be there: "The more I got thinking about it, it's so bizarre to start with, why don't I see what that's like?"