75 years after leaving school for war, Vt. man gets diploma

Published: May. 20, 2019 at 4:17 PM EDT
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More than 70 years after he was drafted and left college to go to World War II, a local veteran finally got his diploma.

The 99-year-old is Niagara University's most experienced graduate this year.

The school's provost made the trip from New York to Vermont to present the South Burlington resident with his diploma.

Our Christina Guessferd takes you inside the intimate ceremony at St. Michael's College.

Lou Pioli has been waiting for this moment for a long time.

"Seventy-five years," he said.

Waiting to hold his own diploma.

"I'm doing great. Overwhelmed. I can't get over it," he said.

"I'm just so happy that he was able to experience this before he dies," said Lou Ann Pioli, Lou's daughter.

The South Burlington resident and New York native recently sat down in front of a camera to reminisce about his life. His family hired a videographer to capture his legacy for future generations.

"That's when I heard him say, 'You know, I've always regretted not being able to finish my degree,'" Lou Ann said. "And three days later we got the annual report from Niagara University in the mail. And I said, 'It's a sign.'"

Lou Ann wrote the university a letter explaining the situation and detailing Lou's commitment to his family and the community. The story made an impact.

"We got together a group of senior administrators, talked it through and decided this would be a wonderful thing to do for Lou," said Timothy Ireland, the provost of Niagara University. "He had finished his first year before he got drafted into World War II. And we were able to award him 21 credits of life experience to get him to the 60 credits he needed to earn his associate's degree."

Niagara University responded to the letter, offering to fly Lou's grandson to this year's commencement where he would accept the degree on his behalf.

"I took the greatest honor of my life," said Kevin Pioli-Hunt, Lou's grandson.

Before his private commencement, the university's provost and Lou had a chance to recall what makes this ceremony so special.

"His memories of Niagara 1941, 1942-- incredible. He remembers his professors' names, he remembers the courses he took, he remembers the layout of the campus," Ireland said.

"Brought back memories, of course," Lou said. "All these friends, you know. It's great."

Lou and his family say they're looking forward to celebrating his next huge life milestone-- turning 100 years old.