Photo of Bob Dwyer in his blue cap and gown surrounded by his family at Northeastern's May 2019 Commencement.

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A check off the bucket list

Monday, June 24, 2019

As “Pomp and Circumstance” filled the arena, one particular graduate made his mark on the history books as he marched into Northeastern Illinois University’s May 2019 Commencement ceremony.

At the age of 90, Bob Dwyer became the oldest graduate in the University’s records, which date back to 1962. The father of nine and grandfather of 22 always planned to earn his degree; he just didn’t realize it would take so long.

“I enlisted in the Army eight days after my high school graduation in 1946 and served stateside for a year and a half,” said Dwyer, who earned his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. “After my time in the service, I used some G.I. credits and started attending Wright College. I planned to become a teacher.”

Dwyer was the first in his family to attend college. It was at Wright College where he met Peggy, the woman who became his wife. Bob decided to leave school and work to support his young family. The two were married for 56 years and put all nine of their children through school. After Peggy’s passing, Bob started traveling and teaching conversational English in Spain and Vietnam. Still, he still wanted to finish his degree.

“This was just one of the things on the bucket list,” daughter Mary Dwyer said. “It just didn’t seem fair that he was the one who didn’t get a chance to go back and get his education.”

Another daughter, Rosanne Dwyer, is also a double alumna of Northeastern, having earned her bachelor’s degree in Special Education and master’s degree in Educational Leadership: School Leadership.

“He didn’t tell us he was applying,” Rosanne said. “He told us when he got accepted and we were all very supportive. I loved Northeastern, and I’m glad my dad had a positive experience there too.”

The family is proud of Bob for completing his degree and making history.

“He’s not only the first of his family to go to college, but now the oldest to graduate too!” said son Dan Dwyer.

Northeastern graduates honored their peer with an impromptu standing ovation as he crossed the stage during Commencement, a moment that was broadcast on virtually every Chicago newscast that night. Dwyer now plans to volunteer at a local elementary school and take some time to stare at his diploma, framed on the wall of his retirement home.

“I really have a great admiration for Northeastern students,” Bob said. “Some of them work two or three jobs on top of going to school and raising a family. That’s not easy. I really, really have a lot of respect for them.”