SDSU President Adela de la Torre presents 105-year-old Bill Vogt with his diploma.
SDSU President Adela de la Torre presents 105-year-old Bill Vogt his 1935 diploma. Photo by Chris Stone

Reminiscing about his years at San Diego State University, Bill Vogt wishes he had back all the hours he’d wasted — trying to find booze.

That was more than 80 years ago. Some things never change.

But Vogt was honored for academic achievement Thursday, finally receiving his university diploma at the age of 105½.

The cause for the delay? He failed to pass his last needed class because of an “obstinate” professor and had to take another class in the fall. Consequently, he finished midyear, during the Great Depression, when no graduation ceremony was held.

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He went on with the rest of his life without the document, said his son, Bob.

Sitting in the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, Vogt held his diploma and talked about how much the university used to and still means a great deal to him.

“I’m going to hang it on a wall with pride. I graduated from a fine school,” said the only living SDSU alumnus to have attended classes at the old campus in University Heights.

The diploma was dated Feb. 1, 1935.

“It’s never too late,” Vogt said.

Upon receiving the framed Bachelor of Arts in commerce (business) diploma, Vogt said, “It’s beautiful. To think that I would ever get this, let alone in this way, is unbelievable. I never expected to have one of those.”

In May, Vogt joined the alumni association as a life member. As was the practice in the 1930s, the school offered a diploma frame with his membership.

But when alumni employees contacted Vogt, he told them he had no diploma to frame. So they decided to award him one after all of these years, said Dan Montoya, assistant vice president for SDSU alumni.

“It was pretty spectacular,” said Sandra Cook, associate vice president for academic affairs. “We get requests for replacement diplomas for students all of the time. … We’ve never had one back that far. Everyone was excited about it.”

It took about a week to find his information on microfiche, she said amid a couple dozen people, including media, family and school officials.

“I hope that I haven’t been a disgrace to the school,” Vogt said upon meeting Adela de la Torre, SDSU’s new president. She assured him that he hadn’t.

“You are really an example for everyone,” de la Torre said. “Thank you so much.”

De la Torre said family was important to her and “that’s why I am thrilled to have the opportunity to honor a very important member of our SDSU family.…Your diploma is symbolic of a bridge that connects us to the great legacy of San Diego State University.”
Of course, much has changed since Vogt sat in an SDSU classroom.

He said he paid $35 a semester to attend and only about 14 students were in his graduating class. This year, about 10,600 students graduated from the university, and tuition and fees this fall is $7,488 for California resident undergraduates.

Back in those days, Vogt commuted from his home in La Mesa in a Model T Ford, having had a driver’s license since he was 13. He parked in a lot that had only about 40-50 cars in them.

He attended school with Gregory Peck and Art Linkletter, son Bob said.

Prohibition was in force in those years, and Vogt and his fraternity buddies would go to Camp Pendleton and meet a booze shipment, and they’d outrun the police, said his son, recalling what his father told him.

The “fun” girls drank and smoked, his son continued, and Vogt played a mean piano at –honky-tonks in Tijuana and Ensenada.

Vogt admits that he wasn’t a “great” student, but since then has been impressed with how the university has “matured.”

After finishing his education, he entered the Navy and served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

But some things haven’t changed. Vogt has always been a devoted SDSU basketball and football fan.

A few years ago, he was able to meet basketball coaches Steve Fisher and Brian Dutcher.

“He’s a modest quiet, kind guy who has had an amazing life and really lived a lot, and he loves this school,” Bob Vogt said, summing up his father. “He’s a devoted Aztec fan. His connection to this community and school means a lot to him.”