The Crusader Newspaper Group

54-year-old custodian graduated from the college he cleaned at night

By Colby Itkowitz,

When Michael Vaudreuil’s college classmates were in the library studying together at night, he was wiping down chalkboards and picking up their trash.

But this weekend, donning a black cap and gown, he stood with them not as a 54-year-old college custodian but as a fellow undergraduate.

It was 2008, the year of the economic downturn, when Vaudreuil filed for bankruptcy, his house was foreclosed on and his car repossessed. His thriving 24-year plastering business had ground to a halt as the economy waned.

Months earlier, in May 2007, a typically busy time for construction work, he sat home for two weeks without any jobs lined up, the first time that had ever happened in all the years he’d been an independent contractor. It was an early indication that hard times were ahead. By fall, he tried to find a steady job with a construction company but by then no one was hiring. And now he no longer had the extra income to support his wife’s entrepreneurial effort — a coffee vending machine business — so that went under too.

The only work he could find was as a night custodian at a local college. It was about a 50 percent pay cut, the work wasn’t stimulating, but the benefits were good. He decided he would take advantage of every free benefit the school offered so it would feel like he was making more money.

So Vaudreuil starting taking undergraduate classes tuition free at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts by day, and cleaning up after his classmates by night.

“I started taking classes to occupy my time constructively and get my mind off all the crap we were going through. It was one day at a time really,” he said. “I felt productive … and it was paying dividends for how it was affecting me personally. A couple years into it I realized that if I kept it up I could get a degree.”

Nearly a decade after his life unraveled, Vaudreuil graduated on May 14 with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. He 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.


Recent News

Scroll to Top