For the love of learning

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By Nita Brown

Tom Morgan never gave up on earning a college diploma, even though it took him 50 years to get it. In May, 2006, at age 68, he walked across the stage in Columbia to graduate, after starting fresh out of Lancaster High School in 1956.

Fifty years is a long time and some wonder why he kept at it.

“People ask why it took me so long. I just tell them I found a really good party school,” he said with a laugh.

A bachelor of arts in history wasn’t something he needed for his career. It was a personal passion. He credits high school teachers and college professors for inspiring him.

“I always enjoyed history. I had two “Mrs. Robinsons” in high school, and later some great professors at USC and USC–Lancaster, particularly Dr. Currie, who made it come alive,” he said.

Morgan said the long road to a degree was just the way things worked out in life. Not long after enrolling at USC as a freshman, he got married. Providing for his growing family put school on hold.
Then he opened his own business – the Lancaster Paint Center. Family life, along with a flourishing business, kept him busy and took precedence for years.

But the desire for that diploma still lurked in the back of his mind, so in 1974, Morgan started taking classes at USC–Lancaster. While still running the Paint Center, he completed his associate’s degree in 1976.

A few stumbling blocks slowed progress toward the four–year diploma. In the early 1990’s, as his marriage ended, he was diagnosed with cancer. Nine months of chemotherapy followed, and he is still cancer–free. Finally, after nearly 30 years in business, he closed the Lancaster Paint Center and went to work for Abrams Fixture Company in Atlanta. He retired in 2001.

In 2003, Morgan resumed his studies – this time commuting two days a week to Columbia for classes.

Though he had to readjust to study habits, returning to school as an older adult had its advantages, he said. For instance, USC offers free tuition when you’re over 65, which helps with cost. As a result, Morgan was not the only student his age.

“I was amazed at the number of older people in school,” he said.

He said the people – younger students and professors alike – made him feel welcome. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience for him, and he encourages anyone to go back if they still have that dream.

“It keeps your mind going and keeps you young,” he said.

Looking back on his days at USC–L, he said he has a great appreciation for what the university has done and how it’s expanded.

“Lancaster has a lot to be proud of in that university.” he said.

Morgan, now 74, works part–time at Lancaster Funeral Home, and stays in touch with his sons and their families, who leave nearby. Greg is in Charlotte; Kerry is in Camden, and Stuart and Lane are in Lancaster. He has nine grandchildren, all “teenagers going their own way now,” he said with a smile. He also is very active at his home church, First ARP.