Queensborough Delivers Big Surprise to 90 Year-Old Former Student: A Diploma

This summer, Alexander Phillips graduated from Queensborough Community College with an Associate in Applied Science degree. He is 90 years old.

“This is one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Mr. Phillips, a resident of Douglasville, Georgia. “I am so grateful to Queensborough for sending me my diploma … and my cap and gown!”

Mr. Phillips attended Queensborough some 50 years ago.  Recently he was reflecting on his life and expressed disappointment in not having his college degree. His daughter-law, Marsha Johnson-Higgins, then contacted Queensborough on his behalf.

“Mr. Phillips’ unique situation and history at Queensborough touched many of us at the College,” said Dr. Diane B. Call, President of Queensborough Community College. “I am so pleased he has been awarded an official Queensborough Community College Associate degree in Business, Class of 2014.”

An academic committee was appointed to review Mr. Phillips’ record. It was determined he was eligible for a degree based on approved course substitutions to meet both the Business, and Speech Communication and Theatre Arts program requirements.

Ms. Johnson-Higgins said, “This is a dream come true for our entire family.”

Mr. Phillips has many family members and friends with whom to celebrate his achievements, including seven grandchildren and five children, four of them daughters. His son Anthony and daughter-in-law, Marsha Higgins-Johnson, care for Mr. Phillips.

When asked about his academic experience at Queensborough, Mr. Phillips said that he remembers asking a math teacher, “What is the most important quality in being a good student?” The professor answered him with one word: perseverance.

His perseverance set a strong example for all of his children, who reached their potential both academically and in the workforce: Two of his daughters pursued careers in the healthcare industry, one as a pediatrician and another as a nurse practitioner; another daughter is employed in the Social Services field; and the fourth graduated from Columbia University and became a teacher. His son, Anthony Higgins, runs his own antiques business and is the main caretaker of his father.

In addition to his scholarly accomplishment, Mr. Phillips was a member of the Armed Forces in World War II and retired from the New York Transit Authority after more than 40 years of service. Due to life-changing decisions he had to make because of his health, he moved to Georgia in January of 2013, at the age of 88.