'This is my first undergraduate degree,' said Kaplan. 'I'm the first of my seven siblings to earn a degree'
It's common for us to hear motivational quotes such as 'Don't let your age limit you,' 'It's never too late,' 'Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional!' and so on. Now we can see them get implemented and hopefully feel inspired. More than 650 Georgia Gwinnett College students graduated at the spring 2023 commencement. One of these students was 72-year-young Sam Kaplan. A father to five and grandfather to fifteen from Lawrenceville, at 68, four years ago he decided to commit himself to a bachelor's degree in Cinema and Media Arts at Georgia Gwinnett College, according to CBS. He was seen walking across the stage to receive his first undergraduate degree at Gas South Arena on May 11, 2023, in a TikTok video posted by @graduation.us. "I'm ecstatic. I'm very happy. I've got a lot of emotions going through me right now," said Kaplan. "I'm just glad to be here."
Going back to school after 50 years wasn't easy and was a challenge for him. He had worked in various capacities throughout his life, but it wasn't until 2019 that he returned to school. Kaplan had not considered college after graduating from high school in 1969. He held several positions. He used to run a cleaning service and then a telemarketing firm. He worked in customer service for an electronics wholesale distributor.
He even worked as a taxi driver on the side. "The last big job was working for an electronics company as a company representative. I worked as a taxi driver. I had a couple of companies of my own at times. My challenges in life helped prepare me for college." "This is my first undergraduate degree," said Kaplan in a college release. "I'm the first of my seven siblings to earn a degree. I was riding down 316 and heard on the radio that Georgia Gwinnett College was offering a degree that involved script writing. 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."
He had to rediscover how to study. Kaplan admitted to being nervous about attending classes and blending in with students 50 years his junior. So he set a personal goal of speaking with one student per day and asking questions about their studies, hopes, and dreams. Kaplan discovered commonalities and strengthened bonds as a result of those conversations. "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 explained. "I think I have a good relationship with them. I got hugs from a lot of them on the last day of classes."
He was also well-liked by the 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."
Kaplan walked across the stage to receive his diploma in front of his biggest fan, his 99-year-old mother, who was in the audience. "She's excited, happy, and proud," Kaplan said. His mother, Virginia Kaplan, 99, was there, as were several of his children and other family members who came to support him on his special day. "I am so proud of him. He had many challenges, but he persevered," she said. Brett Kaplan, his son, reflected on his father's many sacrifices for his family over the years.
"I'm really, really proud of him because he really guided us all through school," he said. "We lived an hour away from the school, and my dad would drive me there every single day. I'm so excited to see him graduate and pull off the dream for himself that he made sure that we all got." Kaplan has made big plans to pursue his dream of becoming a film and television screenwriter. We are sure there are many more milestones waiting to be achieved by him on his way.