96-Year-Old WWII Veteran Returns to USC to Earn Degree

Alfonso Gonzales said in a USC news publication he would do whatever it takes to get his diploma

Alfonso Gonzales, a 96-year-old World War II veteran from Hermosa Beach, remembers fondly the days he attended USC.

As an undergraduate zoology major in 1947, he recalls in a USC news publication strolling by campus landmarks, like Tommy Trojan and Doheny Memorial Library, and the pranks his classmates would play — though he says he never took part in the mischief.

For more than six decades, Gonzales considered himself a USC alum, even though he never attended the graduation ceremony because of work obligations. But when his family requested a copy of his diploma, they learned something from the school that took them by surprise.

Gonzales had left USC one unit short of earning a degree.

On Friday, Gonzales finally got his degree — this time attending a commencement ceremony — after completing a one-unit course over the spring semester. USC says Gonzales is the oldest graduate in school history.

"Time flew but I was always a Trojan," he said at the ceremony. "First thing I do, I'm going to take my siesta."

The college designed a one-unit course tailored for Gonzales' life experiences. He examined autobiographies and how the stories people tell about themselves change over the course of time. He even wore the same hat he'd wear on campus in the 1950s.

Before Gonzales first attended USC in 1947 as the first member of his family to go to college, he was a Marine who treated wounded soldiers on the battlefield in World War II, with dreams of going to medical school.

During his final year of college in 1953, he changed his mind about being a doctor and went into the soil industry — a family business he ran until he retired in 2008.

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