The great recession of 2008 was devastating for Michael Vaudreuil. He not only lost his plastering business, but also his home and car, and his mom had recently died.
Desperate, he took a custodial job at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
“It was a lot less money than I was used to making, but at least I had that,” Vaudreuil told NBC News.
The school offered free classes to all of its employees, which Vandreuil took advantage of, taking classes after his night shift.
“I kind of struggle with insomnia. In this case, it had benefits,” he joked.
Eight years later, he has graduated from the the engineer school with a Bachelor’s of Science in mechanical engineering, earning a 3.65 GPA.
He took one or two classes per semester, sitting among students three decades his junior.
“It was a real positive experience,” he said. “In all my group work, I never felt as though I was unwelcomed.”
His wife and three children were there to support him at his graduation, as well as school administrators.
“Mike really is an inspiration. The degree he pursued is challenging,” said Eric Chojnowski, a benefits administrator at the school. “We’re just very proud to have him go through the program here.”
During the graduation ceremony, the crowd cheered when Vandreuil received his diploma.
“I had no idea I would receive the applause that I did,” Vandreuil said. “It really, really touched me.”
Vandreuil doesn’t have a job lined up after graduation yet, but he hopes to find one that offers him hands-on work building prototypes.