May 14, 2014 — Seventy years after Walter Bunker began working on his undergraduate degree, the 90-year-old World War II veteran will finally walk across the Xavier University stage at graduation with the class of 2014.
Crossing the stage for Bunker, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with cum laude honors, will be no easy task. Recently, Bunker did a walk-through of his commencement procession with his escort, Ryan Hoefer, an Iraq War veteran who is also graduating this May. It was strenuous for Bunker, who was out of breath due to a lung cancer diagnosis last October and his 13 subsequent radiation treatments. However, neither the cancer nor the seven-decade period between Bunker’s enrollment and his graduation have stopped him.
He began in 1941 when he attended the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a scholarship in violin. But with World War II escalating, Bunker left school and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp. In 1944, Bunker received an honorary medical discharge and enrolled at Xavier to resume his college career. He transferred to Notre Dame to attend school there with a friend after a year, but returned to Xavier in 1946 only to withdraw again for medical reasons the next year. For the next several decades, Bunker attended Xavier part-time, slowly gaining college credits while working for his uncle’s real estate agency.
Bunker, now with 10 children of his own who have college degrees, says he’s been feeling a little out of place. “My son can say, ‘I have a master’s degree from Purdue.’ My daughter in-law, ‘I have a master’s from Xavier,’ and my niece just got her master’s degree from North Carolina,” Bunker said. “I was thinking, I am getting older by degrees, so why don’t I get a degree?”
Last August, Bunker called Xavier and related his story to the Office of the Registrar. After collecting his transcripts, the office found that Bunker was just two credits away from his degree. When the office discovered he also had 47 credits from wartime service, Bunker was cleared to receive his diploma.
Seventy years after the start of his journey, Bunker will now walk across the stage with the Class of 2014 and shake hands with Xavier’s president, Jesuit Father Michael J. Graham. And he will get his degree. When asked what he wants to do with it, Bunker replied, “I want to be a cowboy.” [Source: Xavier University]