DU Alumni / People

Alum gets his diploma — 58 years late

Lloyd Hightower isn’t the typical graduate you’d see representing the class of 2009.

For one, he’s 87. Plus, Hightower finished his DU business degree in 1951.

But 58 years later, Hightower finally has a diploma to prove it.

Hightower received the diploma during a ceremony at his Denver home on May 16. Daniels College of Business Professor Barbara Kreisman presented Hightower his diploma in front of his cheering family.

Hightower, though, was shocked. The whole thing was a surprise.

“It bloomed from a little family gathering but turned into a big family reunion,” daughter Patty Matson says, adding that her father thought it was a gathering to celebrate his 87th birthday. Hightower’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren flew in from across the country to watch him receive the diploma.

Hightower attended DU on the GI Bill after he returned home from World War II. But in February 1951, he was called up as a pilot for the Korean War, months short of graduation. He finished his finals with correspondence courses, “but I lost contact with them, and they lost contact with me, so I never got my degree.”

Until now.

“Everybody hummed ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ as I walked out to the backyard, attired in my doctoral cap and gown,” Kreisman says. “Lloyd just stood there, in front of about 25 people, and was totally stunned. We had him slip into the gown, then I draped the hood over his shoulders and everybody clapped.”

After receiving a matted and framed diploma — a BS in business management —Hightower took off his cap and tossed it in the air.

“It was the biggest surprise of my life,” Hightower says.

But the fact that he never received a physical diploma has never been lost on him.

“He really wanted a diploma,” Matson says. “He mentioned it all the time.” Enough times that Matson decided it needed to happen, so she called DU early this year and got the diploma a couple months ago.

Now, though, the “family joke” is over, Hightower says.

“When I moved back to Denver [from Missouri] with my wife in 1977, DU would send me these publications in the mail, or cards asking about donations. I thought, ‘They can find me for donations and all that, but not for my degree,’” he laughs.

He’s probably prouder than most graduates this year. “He was absolutely thrilled,” Matson says.

“I’m very grateful for the education I received and I got to expand on my knowledge of aviation,” says Hightower, a retired pilot.

“It only took me about 60 years to get my degree,” he says. “But I have it.”

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