80-Year-Old Graduate has Experience to Succeed


Photo of Charles Vandegriffe

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Dec. 6, 2010 – Eighty-year-old Charles Vandegriffe of O’Fallon, Mo., will graduate Dec. 18 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Southeast Missouri State University.

Like his fellow College of Liberal Arts classmates, he is excited to participate in the ceremony before his family and friends. However, unlike most of his classmates, Vandegriffe will be celebrating his success with his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Vandegriffe, who completed his coursework via Southeast Online, grew up during the Great Depression, lived through several wars and worked in the business world for much of his adult life. He has long dreamed of going back to school and earning a second degree. He holds an associate degree from St. Louis University in business administration.

He says he chose Southeast because “it offered the programs that fit my personal needs, plus it has a ‘user friendly’ Web page and course structure for an online student.” He said he wanted to return to school to continue his pursuit to learn.

“At the age of 80, it provided me the opportunity to learn and exercise my brain,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed Southeast Online.”

When Vandegriffe began at Southeast, he had already racked up a lifetime full of valuable experiences. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he began a career as a pioneer in information technology.

“I was a Specialist class I.  I worked as a punch card accounting machine operator. It was the forerunner to computers and technology as we know it today,” said Vandegriffe.

Fifty-four years later he started a career as an author during which time he worked as a freelance journalist and wrote the books A Living Legacy and Memory Lane: Sometimes You Have to Look Back to See Where You’re Going. Next for Vandegriffe came a career as an ambassador for United Healthcare, a major medical corporation. He traveled the country giving hundreds of speeches, newspaper and radio interviews and appeared in national television commercials.

Vandegriffe’s eclectic work experiences prepared him well for the task of earning a general studies degree. Once he receives the degree, he says he plans to continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree in religion, focusing on Bible studies.

Where he will continue his education is still “to be determined,” Vandegriffe said, but he credits most of his success to his wife of 62 years, Betty.

“Without my wife, my careers would not have been possible,” he said.

Vandegriffe’s favorite memory during his course work at Southeast is of interacting with his fellow online classmates; however, outside of school he has many other interests.

“I am a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather,” he said. “I have been blessed.”

Between the homework and family interaction, Vandegriffe says he manages to find time for sports and travel. A racquetball aficionado, he was talented enough to make it to the Senior Olympics but was sidelined by an injury. Vandegriffe says he has traveled many places, but Hawaii is his favorite destination.

“We’ve been there five times,” he said.

When asked what advice he had for current and future students, Vandegriffe said, “Students should learn and enjoy this time of their life. Their studies will give them a baseline for whatever their career objectives are.”