Cinema and Media Arts student, 72, to graduate from college 

Sam Kaplan
Sam Kaplan, 72, will graduate from Georgia Gwinnett College on May 11.

Sam Kaplan, 72, of Lawrenceville, has added many items to his resume over the years. On May 11, he will have another addition – college graduate.

“This is my first undergraduate degree,” said Kaplan. “I’m the first of my seven siblings to earn a degree.”

Kaplan, who graduated from high school in 1969, had not considered college. He worked in various roles. He ran a cleaning service and then a telemarketing company. He worked in customer service for a wholesale distributor of electronics. He even drove a taxi part time.

At 68 years old, he decided to go back to school, the beginning of a rewarding journey.

“I was riding down 316 and heard on the radio that Georgia Gwinnett College was offering a degree that involved script writing,” Kaplan explained. “My car seemed to have developed automatic steering and I pulled off on Collins Hill Road. Five minutes later, I was registering for the fall semester.”

His journey wasn’t easy. He hadn’t been to school in 50 years. He had to relearn how to study. While the father of five had experience in raising children, Kaplan said he was nervous about taking classes and fitting in with students who were 50 years younger than him.

So, he made a personal goal to talk to one student a day and ask questions about their studies, their hopes and their dreams. Through those conversations, Kaplan found commonalities and strengthened bonds.

“When you ask a student about what they want and plan on doing and find out what they want to do with their lives; I think that’s uncommon with a lot of kids – they don’t get that with people,” he said. “I think I have a good relationship with them. I got hugs from a lot of them on the last day of classes.”

Along with his classmates, Kaplan was also popular among faculty.

“He'd always participate and would offer advice and assistance to his classmates,” said Kate Balsley, associate professor of film, who taught Kaplan in a number of classes. “Sam was always willing to share photos and stories about his interesting life and his family. We're so proud to see him graduate, but we will miss him.”

When Kaplan walks across the stage to receive his diploma, he’ll do so in front of his biggest fan – his 99-year-old mother will be in the audience.

"She’s very excited,” Kaplan said. “She’s excited, happy and proud.”

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