The bespectacled octogenarian with a cane, wearing a flowing green gown and mortarboard might have been mistaken for a professor emeritus at the Olin Business School graduation ceremony at Washington University in St. Louis May 21.
James Martin Wybar, 84, after the ceremony. He received a standing ovation as he walked across the stage to receive his diploma with the BSBA class of 2010.
But when James Martin Wybar, 84, walked across the stage to receive his diploma, the Class of 2010 jumped to its feet and cheered the gentleman from the Class of 1947 who finally had returned to campus to receive his degree.
“I never did this before in my life,” Wybar says of the graduation ceremony, between posing for photos with his twenty-something classmates. Wybar earned a GED for high school and has attended many graduations as a father and grandfather, but never his own.
Wybar entered Washington University in 1945 with help from the G.I. Bill after serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Two years later — just two credits shy of graduating — Wybar returned to his hometown, Philadelphia, to be near his widowed mother.
He took courses to finish his degree at Villanova University, but didn’t get a chance to collect his WUSTL diploma. He has been busy these past 63 years with a career in the property casualty insurance business, a 57-year marriage, three daughters and six grandchildren, to name a few of the distractions.
Wybar’s son-in-law, John Niemkiewicz, like other members of the family, had heard the tale of the missing diploma for many years and decided it was time to do something about it. Niemkiewicz secretly contacted WUSTL and made arrangements for Wybar to participate in this year’s ceremony.
When Wybar opened a present last Christmas to find an empty frame for a college diploma, he said, “What in the dickens is this?”
His son-in-law and daughters revealed the surprise of a trip to St. Louis to receive his degree and participate in Commencement with the Class of 2010.
Daughters Linda Hahn and Renie Niemkiewicz accompanied their father on the trip to his alma mater. They smiled as they watched their dad enjoy all the pomp, circumstance and special attention paid to the oldest graduate in Olin’s history.