Determination Marks Non-Traditional Student’s Path to Degree

December 14, 2017 at 4:55 pm

Mario Maggio takes notes during a class at USC Upstate. The 78-year-old man will graduate on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

Mario Maggio stands out among his fellow University of South Carolina Upstate students, even the non-traditional ones who are returning to school after a long absence. That’s because Maggio has returned after a really long absence.

Maggio, a native New Yorker who moved to the Upstate in 2002, will be 78 years old and the oldest USC Upstate baccalaureate recipient. He will receive his degree at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 19, 2017.

“I’m going to graduate inDecember if they have to take me down on a stretcher,” Maggio said during a recent interview. “Nothing is going to stop me from it. I’m going to do whatever I have to do.”

For those who know Maggio, that kind of can-do attitude comes as no surprise. When, at 17, he decided to drop out of high school, Maggio said his father insisted he go into the military. Ten days after his 17th birthday, Maggio enlisted in the U.S. Marines, and went on to serve a two-year hitch in the late 1950s.

“I have to say that my Marine training was probably the most honorable and the most productive time of my life,” Maggio said. “They made me grow up. I’m very proud of my Marine service.”

While in the service, Maggio earned his GED, but even with a high-school equivalency, he said he was concerned about how he would provide for his young family. He met his bride-to-be, Dolores, in school when she was 14 and he was 15; they wed during his last year in the corps. But with his determination, Maggio would go on to build a diverse assortment of careers – all successful – from a management position at a leading Wall Street investment bank to president of a taxi-drivers cooperative to restaurant ownership.

Even after retiring and moving to Florida, Maggio continued his hard-working ways. He started buying rentals, and had 27 properties before he sold them and moved to the Upstate in 2002 to be closer to his adult children and his grandchildren.

In 2006, Maggio experienced health issues and required heart surgery. While he recuperated, he said that he yearned for something to do. That’s when he decided to return to school.

“One day I sat there and said to my wife, ‘you know, I’m 66 years old, and I really feel that I should be doing something, but I don’t know what to do’,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to go over to Greenville Tech and see if I can pass the entrance exam. If I pass the entrance exam, I’m just going to take a class. I’ll take something that I like and it will be something to get up every morning and go to.’”

At first he took a business class, which he said he enjoyed; then he switched to history, a subject that stirred his passion.

He had no intention of earning a college degree, but, Maggio said, “when I do something, I do it 100 percent. I dedicate myself completely to it. I don’t do anything half-way, especially when I really like something, and I love history. So I just started taking classes one after another, and then I decided I was going to get my degree.”

Maggio would go on to earn an associate’s degree from Greenville Tech, and he immediately transferred to USC Upstate and began working on a bachelor’s degree.

Since then, Maggio has become a familiar face among the history majors on campus. He has tackled the coursework slowly as he has also dealt with health issues, but he’s not stopped. Because of diminished hearing, Maggio always makes sure to sit near the front of a classroom, and his professors have been very good about accommodating that and any other needs that he might have, he said.

Associate professor Paul Grady, Ph.D., said it’s always a pleasure to see that Maggio is in one of his classes.

“Every obstacle, he’s overcome,” Grady said. “Every challenge, whether it be technological, whether it be skill sets – you’re talking about someone who, after a 60-year absence from education, decides to come back and do it. And surprisingly – or not surprisingly when you get to know Mario – he does it.”

Grady said the students also enjoy Maggio’s contributions to the classroom experience.

“I think Mario has done as much for us and the students in the classroom as we have done for him,” Grady said. “He’s the father figure everybody loves.”

Maggio said he expects to graduate with a 3.4 GPA and a Bachelor of Arts; he has specialized in Colonial America, especially the period around the formation of the constitution.

Even though Maggio has seen a lot of history in the making, he said that’s not why he’s interested in his chosen field of study.

“I think about the people I’m studying, not the events,” he explained. “I put myself in their place, and think about what kind of determination it took to succeed.”