Custodian Graduates from College He Has Cleaned for the Last 8 Years

54-year-old Michael Vaudreuil is used to picking up things at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. He has been working as custodian there for the last eight years, vacuuming the carpets, cleaning the floors, wiping the blackboards and picking up the trash. But last month, Vaudreuil picked up something he’ll actually want to hang on to – a degree in mechanical engineering.

In 2008, Vaudreuil, a self-employed plastering contractor, with two decades of successful entrepreneurship under his belt, felt his world crashing down on him. As recession hit, less phone calls were coming in, but he tried not to panic. Soon, clients stopped calling completely and he had no choice but to file for bankruptcy. Soon, his home was foreclosed, his car repossessed and without his income to support his wife’s vending machine business, that eventually went under as well. He and his family moved into a tiny apartment and Michael started looking for jobs with construction companies, but no one was hiring.


Photo: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The only work he could find was as custodian at a local college. The pay was about half what he used to make, but the benefits were good, so he told himself that he would take advantage of every free benefit offered by the school, to feel like he was making more money. One of the added job perks was tuition fee classes, so he decided to take advantage of that as well. Vaudreuil would take the classes by day and clean up after his schoolmates at night. “I was angry. I was depressed. But as the semester went on, I thought, ‘Geez, this is taking my mind away from everything,'” the happy graduate said. “When I got my first A, I thought, ‘This is really nice.'”

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, Michael recalls. “When you lose everything like that, you don’t trust your ambition,” he said. “You’re just trying to get through the day.” His new job wasn’t something he wasn’t something he was exceptionally proud of, and the failure of his business still haunted him. “It was hard to look my kids in the eye,” he told “I couldn’t tell them to work hard and they’d be successful … because I did that, and I lost.”


Photo: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Despite the hardships, Vaudreuil kept going to classes, and three years into his studies he realized he was well on his way to a college degree. He felt awkward attending school alongside colleagues his kids’ age, but the support of the other students turned out to be a big factor in his incredible achievement. “I realized it was more my own judgment than anyone else’s,” he said. “They thought what I was doing was really great.”

One May 14, 2016, eight years after taking his first class at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Michael Vaudreuil walked out on the stage to pick up his diploma, under the proud eyes of his family and colleagues. He said he will continue to work as custodian at WPI, but that he is looking forward to the day he lands a job in engineering. On the big day, Michael wrote “OLD DOG HAS NEW TRICKS” on the top of his mortarboard, and on each corner inscribed a single initial: a “J” for Joyce, his wife; a “P”, for Paul, his son; and an “A” and “N” for Amanda and Nicole, his daughters – a tribute to his supportive family.


Photo: Joyce Vaudreuil

Michael Vaudreuil’s ambition and perseverance have inspired the entire custodial staff at WPI, said his supervisor, Gary Antinarella. Over the years, other members of the staff had taken advantage of the free classes offered by the school, but none to the extent he did. Seeing him succeed has been a motivational boost for his colleagues.

And Vaudreuil says he understands the inspirational value of his achievement perfectly: “When people say my story inspires them, I know what that means on the other side. Sometimes, other people’s stories got me through. I’m glad I can be that person.”


via Washington Post

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