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Janitor earns degree from Columbia University

Gac Filipaj, 52, above, is seen at his graduation from Columbia University on Sunday, May 13, 2012. Filipaj came to the United States from Yugoslavia and worked as janitor at the university.

May 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It was sheer joy for one very hard-working student as he picked up his Ivy League degree on Sunday.

Gac Filipaj, 52, graduated with honors after a 20-year intercontinental, round-the-clock odyssey. He fled to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1992 to escape the civil war there.

Once in the United States, he began working as a janitor at Columbia University to pay his way through school.

"I prove that I have enough strength to finish to what I start to do," said Filipaj, who earned a bachelor's degree in classics.

Even though he's now a Columbia grad, Filipaj plans to keep his janitorial job for now. He eventually wants to enroll in graduate school and ultimately earn his doctorate degree in Roman and Greek classics.

Someday, he hopes to become a teacher, while translating his favorite classics into Albanian. He's not interested in furthering his studies to make more money.

"The richness is in me, in my heart and in my head, not in my pockets," Filipaj told the Associated Press. Filipaj is also now an American citizen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.