96-Year-Old WWII Vet Alfonso Gonzales Is On Track To Become USC’s Oldest Grad

Lead Photo: Mark Vrahas/Daily Trojan
Mark Vrahas/Daily Trojan
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At 96, Alfonso Gonzales is set to become the oldest graduate in the University of Southern California’s history. After serving in the Navy and as a Marine in Okinawa during World War II, he started his undergraduate studies at Compton Community College before transferring to USC in 1947. But he never finished – at least that’s what a family member trying to get a copy of his degree learned.

“I thought all I had to do was go over there and pick up my diploma, but no, I was one unit short, they told me,” Gonzales, who goes by Ponchie, told ABC7.

So he signed up for an elective course at the Davis School of Gerontology to receive his bachelor’s degree in zoology by spring. According to Dorinda Geddes – Gonzales’ great niece – a cousin filled out all the paperwork for Ponchie. On his first day of school, Geddes photographed him with his ID, and the picture went viral.

Helping Gonzales toward the finish line is Assistant Professor of Gerontology Aaron Hagedorn in a directed study environment – courses specifically designed for students that are typically outside of a school’s purview. For Gonzales, Hagedorn created a guided autobiography course, where Ponchie will hand write his life story. And though his last course is his main focus, Gonzales also uses his time on campus to attend freshman and senior seminars.

Though he’s taking full of advantage of his second college life, Ponchie has faced with some difficulties too. “Transportation is difficult, and I struggle a little bit in reading my assignment,” Gonzales said, according to the Daily Trojan. “I have to pause when I read to comprehend it.”

His class will end in a few weeks. Until we are (hopefully) blessed with cap and gown pictures, check out this video of Gonzales talking about his last semester in college:

January 12 at 2:30 p.m.: Gonzales passed away on January 10 at the age of 96. Before his death, he was able to accomplish his dream of graduating from college.