Alfonso Gonzales, who in May became the oldest graduate in USC history, has died at the age of 96, the university announced.
Gonzales died on Dec. 27 at his home in Hermosa Beach. He is survived by four generations of nieces and nephews.
Gonzales received a bachelor of science degree in zoology, nearly 70 years after he first set foot on the Trojan campus.
According to the university, Gonzales — the first person in his family to attend college — started at USC in 1947 and thought he had graduated a long time ago, although he wasn’t able to attend a graduation ceremony in 1953 due to his job.
Relatives approached the university to obtain a copy of his diploma, and they discovered he was actually one unit shy of graduation.
So the university helped out, crafting a one-unit independent study course specifically for Gonzales, including video and reading assignments and visits to gerontology classes. And Gonzales passed with flying colors.
USC no longer offers a degree in zoology, but the university bestowed it upon him anyway.
A native of Lompoc and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of World War II, Gonzales started a soil company called Compo-Loam in 1953, while still attending USC. He ran the company for 55 years, retiring in 2008 at age 88.
According to the university, while taking his one-credit course and visiting USC classes, Gonzales spoke to students about the dangers of smoking — a habit he kicked in 1980 — and gave them advice on healthy living, and encouraged them to take advantage of their education.
“Don’t forget that you’re going to be our future leaders,” Gonzales said. “You’re needed in our society. You’ll change America — but don’t change it too much. We’ve got something nice here.”
—City News Service