Galveston resident Mike McAfee knows that it’s never too late in life to learn something new.
At age 74, McAfee completed his college degree and graduated from Texas Texas A&M University at Galveston with a Bachelor of Science in university studies.
McAfee finished his education solely because he wanted to, he said — he was already retired when he graduated in December 2016.
“I didn’t do this to further my career,” he said. “It was the kind of thing in the back of my mind that always bothered me, that I didn’t finish my degree.”
McAfee, who is now 75, attended college in Missouri and Oklahoma earlier in life but said he pulled out to focus on his family and career. He’d been in the business industry for most of his life, and before he retired in 2014, McAfee had worked at Del Papa Distributing Company for 20 years.
McAfee first had the idea to complete his degree at Texas A&M University while he was helping his company set up an endowment with the school, he said. After talking with several school officials, he began working to transfer his hours from his previous universities and craft a degree plan.
He enrolled in 2011 and began taking about three hours of classes a week, all while continuing his work at Del Papa.
“It was a very exhilarating and yet humbling experience to be around young people who are clearly focused on what they want to do and focused on their careers,” McAfee said.
He was impressed by these students, because when he was in college at that age, McAfee said he wasn’t as determined.
“I was spending way more time going to fraternity parties,” he said, laughing.
Once he retired, McAfee took more classes a semester to speed up his degree. By the time he got his diploma, he completed more than 50 hours at the university.
His age was never a problem, McAfee said. Although he recognized the clear age gap between him and his classmates, he said it never made him feel uncomfortable or too different.
“When I first did it, yeah you’re a little nervous about it, walking into a class where everybody in there could be your grandchild,” McAfee said. “You finally get used to that.”
McAfee was personable and made friends easily in class, said Regents professor Stephen Curley, who led McAfee in his two independent study courses in English.
“I’d kind of have to stop him and interrupt him because he was having a conversation with people who were younger than he was,” Curley said.
McAfee’s professors and advisers said McAfee thrived in the college classroom, challenging teachers and providing invaluable insights to the conversation.
“He added a layer of wisdom and discussion that wouldn’t be there without his experience,” said Donna Lang, vice president for academic operations.
McAfee said his teachers would often ask him for his professional opinion in his courses.
Teachers “would play off of me,” McAfee said. “They would turn to me for the practical application in the business world.”
McAfee proves that education is valuable in all stages of life, Curley said.
“We load all our education into our early years and we stop learning,” Curley said. “You really don’t outgrow your need for education.”
Now that McAfee has completed his degree, he’s started volunteering at the school. He’s now happy to be an Aggie and even has a class ring — despite being an Oklahoma Sooners fan his entire life.
“I’m very proud of having a degree; I’m very proud that it’s from A&M,” McAfee said. “I have nothing but great things to say about my experience. It just wouldn’t spill over onto the football field.”