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Marine Corps veteran earning USC Upstate diploma at 78
Herald-Journal - 12/19/2017
Dec. 19--When Mario Maggio graduates Tuesday, he'll be the oldest person to ever receive a University of South Carolina Upstate diploma.
Maggio, 78, is a native New Yorker who moved to the area 15 years ago. Tuesday, he'll earn his degree from USC Upstate nearly 60 years after he dropped out of high school and joined the Marine Corps and more than a decade after retiring.
"Retiring doesn't mean it's time to lay down and prepare for death. Retirement means moving into a new phase in your life," he said. "People ask me about this and my comment to them is, 'our Heavenly Father is not ready for me yet, so I'm undertaking things probably people in their 60s wouldn't think of undertaking.' I'm not ready to go yet. I'm not laying down."
Ten days after turning 17, Maggio enlisted in the Marines serving for two years in the 1950s. While enlisted, he earned his GED and married his high school sweetheart, Dolores.
"My dad told me, 'if you're not going to go to school, you should go into the military so you can learn a trade,'" Maggio said. "So, I went into the Marine Corps. When I was discharged, I went to work at an entry level (job) on Wall Street because what I learned in the Marine Corps, I couldn't really put into use in civilian life."
After leaving the Marines, Maggio worked in an array of fields. He was a data processing manager on Wall Street before becoming the president of a taxi drivers cooperative in New York. He also owned several restaurants.
Maggio eventually retired to Florida, where he continued working. He bought more than two dozen rental properties before he and Dolores decided to move to the Upstate to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
"We just decided to pick up from Florida and we moved here in 2002," he said.
Four years after moving to the Upstate, health issues caught up with Maggio.
In 2006, he had major heart surgery. While learning what he could and couldn't do while recovering from surgery, Maggio decided to give academics another try.
"In my recovery, I told my wife, 'I don't play golf, I don't play tennis, I'm really kind of bored with myself, I really want to do something, so I'm going to go over to Greenville Tech to see if I can pass the entrance exam,'" he said. "At that point, my objective was to do something useful that I enjoyed that was productive."
So, Maggio enrolled in an economics class at Greenville Technical College, where he earned an associate's degree.
He then enrolled at USC Upstate on the advice of several Greenville Tech professors who thought he would like the environment and course offerings the Spartanburg university had to offer.
During his time at USC Upstate, Maggio has taken on courses as his health has allowed. Recently, he began sitting at the front of his classrooms because of diminished hearing.
"Every obstacle he's overcome, every challenge, whether it be technological, whether it be skill sets -- you're talking about someone who, after a 60-year absence from education, decides to come back and do it," said Paul Grady, associate professor at the university, in a statement. "And surprisingly, or not surprisingly, if you know Mario, he does it."
Maggio expects to graduate with a 3.4 GPA and a bachelor of arts. He has specialized in Colonial America, especially the period around the formation of the constitution.
During his time in college, Maggio said he used his health issues and devotion to his family as motivation.
Now, he's excited to see his work culminate in earning a college degree at 78.
"I told some of my professors, 'I'm going to graduate if you have to take me down there on a stretcher,'" he said. "There's nothing that's going to stop me from graduating December 2017."
(c)2017 the Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.)
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