May

14

Senior Wisdom: Gac Filipaj

Written by

Name, Hometown, School, Major: Gac Filipaj, New York City, GS, Classics

Claim to Fame? [Editor’s Note: Read about Gac’s claim to fame.]

Where are you going? I would like to go to grad school here at Columbia.

Three things you learned at Columbia:

  1. I thought I knew a lot, if not everything, but I came to know that I know almost nothing.
  2. Classical culture rules the world, and Latin language can unite humankind and the world.
  3. To try to find out which of the great minds were right and which were wrong.

Favorite class(es)? Professor(s)? Senior thesis, Majors’ Seminar, Philippics I and II, James Zetzel, Collomia Charles, Marcus Folch, William Harris, but without doubt, number one remains Seneca’s Letters with Gareth Williams.

Advice for the class of 2016: Now is the time to study. Do not leave it for when you reach my age. Do not get distracted by any failure. You fail when you lose your hope. Live to see what “the journey of life” is like. Stay on “the life-stage” until the end comes on its own. And do read Seneca’s letters.

Any regrets? I should have tried to come to the USA much earlier.

Photo via the NYDN

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47 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    lol bwog not asking Gac about oral sex

  2. Anonymous

    I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.

  3. Jared  

    I'm honored I get to go to the same school as this man. Completely inspirational. Congratulations, Gac!

  4. BWOG!

    THANKS SO MUCH FOR THIS! Gac's story is so inspiring!

  5. i feel

    like a bitch after seeing this baws

  6. Anonymous  

    hometown's definitely not NYC. besides that, this guy is the MAN.

  7. Anonymous

    I read his story and maybe I'm missing a part of the story but I'm not grasping what is so inspirational. I think it's really cool that he works at Columbia and is getting to graduate from here but...? I don't know. Maybe it's enough that I think its "neat" I guess I don't have to be moved to tears to appreciate this story.

    • Anonymous

      yeah, i mean, like, what's so special about graduating from college? it's not like it was that hard, right?

      hopefully, one day, you will look at this from a lens of privilege and understand that what gac accomplished is nothing short of truly exceptional.

    • Anonymous  

      Spoken like a sheltered & privileged prick. Get a clue!

    • CC'14

      This man overcame extreme obstacles and hardships as a refugee in the midst of a political conflict in his homeland and knew almost no English when he arrived in the US. He just graduated from one of the world's most prestigious universities -- with honors -- while pulling all-nighters and maintaining a demanding, full-time job for decades.

      Despite his humble background and so many barriers, he persevered and worked himself to the bone and accomplished something many other CC, SEAS, GS and BC students could not achieve. He now wants to pursue a master's and a PhD.

      If this is not inspirational, I don't what is. This is truly remarkable.

  8. Ahem.

    You misspelled his last name in the title.

  9. this man

    was ALL OVER CNN headline news today. like from 9am through 8pm, every half hour they showed a short interview with him as well as the columbia campus. ridiculous!

    and inspiring. i looked in the mirror today at how lucky i am to have been born in a middle class family and all the resources a kid can ask for and asked myself "whats YOUR excuse?"

    • Anonymous  

      Coming from the other end, I've always wondered why my classmates never seemed to realize their outstanding privilege to have made it here...

      I don't know Gac Filipaj personally, but I have always made conversation with the Columbia staff. I often find much more in common with them - stressing about money, temporary jobs and one-time hires - rather than with other undergraduate students, who stress about getting non-shameful grades, having good-enough friends, and finding a resume-building internship position. I'm glad to hear that a custodian, the type of person most people on this campus generally ignores, pursued his academic studies with the kind of perseverance and patience that is nothing short of intellectually inspiring and exemplary.

      But while it might be easier to humbly 'ask [yourself], "What's your excuse?" (if you were born with more resources and feel 'ashamed' by your turn-out), I think Gac Filipaj's success story should motivate you to see yourself in the great position of power, upon which you sit, as a student of Columbia University. CNN ran his story all day because a custodian graduating from an elite prestigious world-class university after 20 years of school DOES NOT happen everyday. But it does happen when real people pursue such high-aimed goals, following the paths that their real desires, and not just available resources, want to take them.

      Unfortunately most of us are still very young, and most of us have been taught to perceive the world in a particular way, following particular desires that will not necessarily contribute to our well-being (i.e. from GOING to college in the first place [which only became a nation-wide, middle-class, American rite of passage in the past century!] to developing the habit of 'drunken college black-outs' just cause everyone's doin' it --> "gotta impress my friends with my cool life on FB!"). If everyone on this campus could just STOP joining the rat race (or pretending they are too cool for the rat race but still feel bad because their grades are 'mediocore'), and actually accept the fact that they are already sitting in a seat of power by being involved in this institution, I think THAT could actually be more productive than just feeling bad for yourself.

      You are probably very smart. You can probably hold a lot more concepts in your mind than the majority of fifth-graders in F-grade NYC public schools will ever master, given their lack of resources at home and school to fully stimulate and develop their intellectual faculties in the hegemonic values of mere verbal and math skills. You can probably grasp, grapple with, and articulate concepts as complex as critical theory to thermodynamic physics, ideas which you've either encountered in your [private?] secondary school education or ideas for which you've always had an interest. You've probably had people who picked up on your smarts, like your parents, or teachers, or tutors who spent one-on-one time for your intellectual development. And yes, you got all of this without 'suffering' too much (and probably with health insurance, too! what a treasure for the working-class, always afraid to get sick and accrue hospital bills/miss work). OK WHATEVER. Go use your privilege to do something good! Do it for all the people who have helped you! Do it for the people who need help! Need your smarts - you are a resource!

      /end of rant

      • Anonymous

        Typical Columbia student taking a Bwog comment too seriously to rant about privilege (and arrogantly stereotyping the student population). I’m absolutely sure we all recognize the ‘seats of power’ we’ve earned by going to Columbia (which, in its worst moments, leads to Bwog comments making fun of other colleges, etc). However, clearly one can’t help but feel humbled and amazed by Mr Filipaj’s achievement. I think it simply leads us to reflect on how we can extrapolate our resources and comfort zones to reach higher goals, which is something that (to an extent, of course) transcends socioeconomic settings. Let us admire this man’s feat and dream big ourselves.

      • The Dark Hand

        >Go use your privilege to do something good!

        Nah. My only motivation is proving to myself that I'm more intelligent than those who surround me.

      • Anonymous

        Instead of turning this into another flame war and adding negativity to this article, why don't we just celebrate the achievements of Mr. Filipaj? There's plenty of other opportunities to debate what you wrote about, but this is not the place.

        Mr. Filipaj, I have never met you and I have likely walked past you at some point in the past few years, but you are truly an inspiration. Your courage, your perseverance, and your humbleness are one-of-a-kind. I regret that I have never met you or struck up a conversation with you, but I am proud that I have walked the same halls, sat in the same lecture rooms, and attended the same university as you.

        Congrats on this achievement and best of luck for the future.

  10. The man's

    Life story is almost as inspirational to me as Obama's... He proved that nothing is impossible in this life with a little dedication. Yes, Barry rose the ranks and became the first "half-black" prez, but he hailed from Honolulu, and not during the Pearl Harbor years. On the other end, this man fled from a bomb ridden shithole country, cleaned up after our dirty asses for over a decade, and got honors in the Classics. The entire time he seems to have remained very humble and grateful during the process. This is the epitome of the university's unique GS mission and a lot of snot nosed kids around campus should salute him and heed this "wisdom".
    Gac for 2016! Except he'll be continuing his doctorate so he won't be done until 2040....

  11. Anonymous

    Thank you Gac! You are an inspiration. I always saw you working in Lerner and you were always so friendly. I wish you well.

  12. Anonymous

    Gac,
    Just want to say you are an inspiration and a role model for all of us! I wish you the best of luck and you are an amazing person!!

  13. Anonymous

    Typical Columbia student taking a Bwog comment too seriously to rant about privilege (and arrogantly stereotyping the student population). I'm absolutely sure we all recognize the 'seats of power' we've earned by going to Columbia (which, in its worst moments, leads to Bwog comments making fun of other colleges, etc). However, clearly one can't help but feel humbled and amazed by Mr Filipaj's achievement. I think it simply leads us to reflect on how we can extrapolate our resources and comfort zones to reach higher goals, which is something that (to an extent, of course) transcends socioeconomic settings. Let us admire this man's feat and dream big ourselves.

  14. GS 2015

    Congratulations!!

  15. Anonymous

    Seneca's Letters with Gareth Williams does sound pretty dope.

  16. Twitch

    Anything with Gareth Williams sounds pretty dope.

  17. has anyone watched

    the philosopher kings?

  18. Anonymous

    Congratulations, Gac!

  19. Anonymous  

    Sorry to ask about the age of Gac that appeared in the media. Is 52 the real age? Some friends suspected that Gac may be more senior

  20. Roko

    Svaka vam čast još jednom, čitava Hrvatska danas govori o Vama! Na naslovnici ste svih novina! Uživajte u ovom trenutku, potpuno ste ga zaslužili.

  21. Ha  

    Pretty much anything related to Gareth Williams is dope. I've studied Seneca with him at a very shallow level, so I can only imagine what Gac experienced.

  22. Alum

    People like Gac made me feel truly privileged to go to a school like Columbia. Despite its many flaws, Columbia allows people like Gac to transcend their backgrounds and certify their motivation/intelligence/attitude. It exposes the rest of us to exceptional people outside our ivory tower, and for this exposure I am ever grateful, it has helped me be more successful and more open minded after college.

    My guess is Gac was the butt of many GS jokes through college, "why is that old guy always early or asking questions", I hope we can see why, his humility and positivity is inspiring. I want to hire him, but that will come in the way of his Masters and I doubt my job would interest someone so amazing. All the best Gac, I hope to meet you one day on campus.

  23. Anonymous

    Gac gave Columbia great visibility these few days throughout the world. Gac should now send Columbia an invoice (joke). Your education was not entirely free, you still needed to pay some fees not covered by the benefit.

    A lot of people will be inspired by you. You should be an ambassador, go around to give talk across the country or throughout the world. Your story will sell. Consider your major, it may be time to write a book about yourself.

  24. I have to confess...

    I really expected to read a lot of shit written here about Gac and about GS. I expected people writing about how he should not be in classes with the rest of the undergraduate etc. but you all proved me wrong... Shame on me..

  25. Anonymous

    Congratulation Gac!!! You are an exellent exampell of Albanian spirit and love for knowaledge! Very proud of you.

  26. Anonymous

    This is truly remarkable story!! This is what America stands for; a land of opportunities and freeedom. Gac Filipaj knows that more than any body else. As an Albanian living on Yugoslavia you never get a chance under the serbian opression but not in America. If you work hard your dreems come tru. Gac came to America and choose books and learning and not genocide he was asked to do by serbian goverment. He represent the true Albanian spirit. Just like mother Theresa.

  27. Anonymous

    You need an impressive essay to be admitted into Columbia. To exit, you need an even more impressive real story.

    For master's or Ph.D., there is no more employment benefit with free tuition. He has to get a fellowship or pay full tuition. Strictly speaking, the undergrad benefit is not without paying a cent. There are some other fees that one needs to pay.

    I hope we don't loss Gac to Princeton or Harvard.

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