"I figured if I had a degree, I'd have to get a job," Walter Bunker says.
Bunker will graduate from Xavier University May 17, but he won't be jumping into the job market. The 90-year-old World War II veteran says he'll be fulfilling a lifelong dream just by crossing the Cintas Center stage with his bachelor's degree.
Bunker, of Kenwood, Ohio, was a few credits short of a degree. But Xavier's research discovered 47 credits through his Air Force training, earning him the right to join nearly 800 other graduates.
He just finished 13 radiation treatments for lung cancer and his wife, Martha, is recovering from a concussion after a recent fall. But that won't stop him.
"I'm just very weak, but this is a triumph for me," he said during a recent walk-through of the Cintas Center in preparation for commencement. "I never thought it would be such a big deal. My children got terribly excited about it."
Bunker took classes at Xavier for several years after World War II, but never graduated. He also spent time at the University of Notre Dame and the old Cincinnati College of Music, now part of the University of Cincinnati.
His father, brother and two children all attended Xavier â?? one son left early to enlist during the Vietnam War â?? and his granddaughter, Sara, is a student there now. His uncle, Walter Schmidt, is memorialized on campus through the Schmidt Fieldhouse.
Ryan Hoefer of Loveland, Ohio, will escort Bunker through the ceremony. Like Bunker, he's earning a degree. Also like Bunker, he is a veteran.
"It will be an honor to be with you that day," he told Bunker.
Bunker will get through the ceremony with the aid of a wheelchair and help getting up and down stairs. He'll have family there from all over the country.
"Can I get you a Red Bull that morning so you have some energy?" Hoefer asked Bunker as they walked through a tunnel onto the Cintas Center floor.
"No thanks," Bunker replied. "I've got my Ensure."
Bunker grew up in Walnut Hills and graduated from St. Xavier High School in 1941. He studied piano for a year and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force.
"I went to a lot of schools," he said, including basic training, gunnery school, radio school and bombardier school.
He flew as a bombardier on combat missions over France and Germany starting in 1943 and was medically discharged the following year.
He took classes at Xavier and Notre Dame. He spent most of his business career in real estate as president of the Frederick H. Schmidt Real Estate brokerage.
In the last several years, Bunker was taking create writing classes at the University of Cincinnati's Blue Ash College and he joined a creative writer's group.
He wrote to Xavier last year: "It seems I sporadically spent almost a dozen years or more in school after graduating (from high school), but I have no degree to show for it.
"It's a dream of mine to have a degree from Xavier," he said. "It's my favorite school."
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