By Jessica Easthope
The graduating class of 2020 hasn’t had the best luck. After four years of hard work, the coronavirus pandemic forced colleges and universities to hold their ceremonies online. Most graduates would be disappointed or angry, but not Pat Branley.
“It doesn’t bother me in the least bit, I’m way way past that,” he told Currents News. “At my age , sitting alone, graduating from college, there are a lot of people sitting alone in a funeral parlor, so I have no complaints.”
60 years after dropping out of St. John’s University, 88-year-old Pat returned this year. In need of just two classes to finish his undergraduate degree, Pat re-enrolled at the Staten Island campus and on May 31 he was finally able to say “I did it.”
“The void has been filled, I always felt that incompletion,” Pat explained.
As a high school graduate, Pat joined the Navy, and after serving our country for four years and figuring out what he wanted to do for another two, he started at the old St. John’s in Brooklyn, but life got in the way.
“I had been a firefighter for about a year and a half and I was going to school then and it was getting so busy and I couldn’t do both,” he recalled.
Pat was quickly rising in the ranks as a lieutenant in the FDNY, and once he started a family with his wife of 48 years, Betty, he decided to leave school. But, his mind was never far from St. John’s.
“I made the withdrawal physically, but I never made it in my heart or intellectually,” Pat said.
His graduation turned out to be the furthest what he had envisioned when he left school all those years ago.
“I sat down in a recliner in the living room by myself because no one could come because of the virus, and I watched the virtual graduation on my iPad,” Pat said of his virtual ceremony.
After reflecting on his college journey, Pat recalled something he told his four children, now three lawyers and a teacher.
“Don’t go to college to prepare for a job, go so that you can enjoy your time off,” Pat said.
So now as graduates compete for first jobs and start their futures, Pat will be enjoying his summer off.