Want a degree from Columbia University, but can't afford the absurd tuition? Do you own a mop, are not disgusted by cleaning toilets and can spare a dozen years of your life?
Gac Filipaj, a 52-year-old refugee from the former Yugoslavia, spent the last 12 years mopping the hallowed halls of Columbia University as a janitor while taking classes at the Ivy League school during his free time -- and didn't pay a penny in tuition. The time spent mopping up floors then hitting the books paid off on Sunday, when Filipaj strolled to the school's graduation ceremony wearing a cap and gown to pick up his degree in classics, then promptly went back to work.
As an employee of the school, his education was free. Which would explain the big smile and thumbs up he flashed as he walked off the stage after picking up his degree.
This is a man with great pride, whether he's doing custodial work or academics, Peter Awn, dean of Columbia's School of General Studies and professor of Islamic studies, told the Los Angeles Times. He is immensely humble and grateful, but he's one individual who makes his own future.
Filipaj especially looked forward to digging into the Roman philosopher Seneca, and did some of his readings in ancient Latin and Greek.
I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family: not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life, he told the LA Times.
Filipaj fled what would become Montenegro in 1992 as a civil war brewed in the former Yugoslavia and is now an American citizen. He was allowed to begin taking classes at Columbia after learning English. But his low-income existence meant most of his papers were hand-written. Filipaj didn't own a laptop until last year and doesn't own a television or cell phone. Yet he still graduated with honors.
The refugee's story has made him something of a celebrity around campus, with passersby offering congratulations and a handshake.
I don't even know them, Filipaj told the New York Daily News. I'm not used to it. I didn't expect any kind of popularity.
He now hopes to get a master's degree, maybe even a doctorate, in Roman and Greek classics and eventually wants to become a teacher while moonlighting as a translator.
Until then, he's looking for a promotion within the school. Something better than just janitor. Perhaps supervisor of custodians, according to the LA Times.
The richness is in me, in my heart and in my head, Filipaj said. Not in my pockets.
The celebrations were brief for the janitor, though. After picking up his degree, he traded his cap and gown for a broom and returned to work.
I started at age 40 and finished at 52, he said. Anyone can do it.
Check out the ABC News segment about Filipaj below.