Decades Late, But Still Important: 1953 NIU Grad Picks Up Diploma

May 13, 2016

63 years ago, the Korean War came between a Northern Illinois University graduate and his cap and gown. Now, he’s back on campus to make the long-delayed march with his fellow grads. 

Gus Trantham tries to get Henri to pose on the stairs in NIU's Altgeld Hall. Trantham was surprised by two staircases where only one stood the last time he was on campus, in 1953.
Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ

In May of 1953, Gus Trantham’s parents took a train from Chicago to DeKalb to accept his diploma in a ceremony he couldn’t attend.  Trantham was in the Navy by then, behind enemy lines in Korea.

That’s where he made himself a promise: he would return to NIU some day, don a cap and gown, and pick up his bachelors in physical education himself. That’s what the 85-year-old is doing this weekend, all the way from South Carolina, with 25 family members, and his dog Henri, cheering him on.

Trantham has had a long career in business and international travel. He wants his fellow graduates to know that their education is just the beginning. He says he planned to be a football coach, but that didn't happen. Instead, he has spent his whole life learning. 

NIU president Doug Baker will tell Trantham’s story, then deliver that long-awaited piece of paper during College of Education graduation ceremonies.