Fifty-seven years later, student finally earns his bachelor’s degree

By Kaidi Ilves

“It’s never too late to graduate,” says 75-year-old John Prout, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in individualized studies, with a focus on humanities, from Fairleigh Dickinson University at the school’s 73rd Commencement on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. “It was close to six decades in the making, but I can finally say I have a degree,” says Prout.

John ProutProut’s college journey started in 1959. After his high school graduation, the Jersey City, N.J., native started working in an office, knowing his education shouldn’t stop quite yet. He enrolled at FDU’s Rutherford Campus as an evening student.

Shortly after, a friend got Prout interested in court reporting — keeping a verbatim record of court proceedings, depositions, and the like — and Prout decided to make a career out of it. He started with taking courses in a licensing program.

“I had court reporting classes twice a week, and FDU courses on Saturday mornings and two nights a week. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re 19, and have all the time and energy in the world,” says Prout. Alas, he felt something had to give. “Between work, studies, and an active social life, it was hard to balance everything,” he says. He chose in favor of court reporting, and dropped out of college after only completing 18 months of coursework.

The next few decades were filled with countless moments with his wife Pat, five children, and eleven grandchildren, along with a tremendously successful career. Prout went on to found one of the premier court reporting companies in New Jersey, now named Prout & Cammarota, LLC. “I was very active in both my business, and as a professional in the field, holding a presidency in both the National Court Reporters Association and the Certified Court Reporters Association of New Jersey, and taking part in several New Jersey Supreme Court committees,” Prout says.

Although he has no regrets about the life he chose, Prout did always wish he had completed his degree. “He had always shared that one of his biggest disappointments was not finishing his degree,” says Ernest “Bub” Kovacs, associate professor at FDU’s School of Administrative Science. Kovacs, a friend of Prout, encouraged him to consider returning to FDU as an adult student, to fulfill his lifelong wish.

That, he did. “After I retired, I wanted to do something with my time that would also keep my mind active. My wife and kids all have degrees, some even advanced degrees, and I decided it was time for me to get mine and give FDU another whirl,” says Prout. He returned to his studies in 2008, amazed by how quickly FDU was able to track down his record and set him on track to earning his degree. “With the credits I had earned at Rutherford, the credits I was granted under my licensure, College Level Examination Program exams, and the ability to challenge a course at FDU, I had accumulated 47 credits, which meant I was more than a third of the way there. I saw it as a sign that maybe I really should pursue this,” he says.

Prout, who now resides in Long Beach Island, N.J., first tried commuting to FDU’s Teaneck Campus. “It was logistically difficult,” he says, which led him to explore the online learning option. “I didn’t like the idea of online classes. I thought ‘how can you get any dynamic interaction from interacting with a screen,’ but with a little encouragement and assistance from Kovacs, I tried it anyway, and was surprised to find how interactive and highly dynamic it really was. Maneuvering the computer was not that difficult either.”

Looking back at his experience, Prout is proud of his academic achievement. “I studied a lot of topics I never even considered, and it kept my mind stimulated,” he says. The biggest challenges for him were chemistry and math. “I was never strong in either, and hadn’t thought about them for 60 or so years. It felt like a huge accomplishment to finish both with a B+,” he continues. “The support from advisors and professors was very helpful in this whole progress.”

Prout recommends that everyone get as much education as they can. “It gives you more opportunities and choices in life. And if I could do it, so could you!” he says.

“It was a pleasure to have worked with a student as outstanding as Prout,” says Denise Hart, the director of adult education at Petrocelli College. She remembers Prout as “a truly genuine individual and a role model for so many others that attend our institution.

Prout isn’t quite sure what comes next. “I’ll definitely do something to keep my mind active — perhaps I’ll get a master’s degree, perhaps I’ll just take some online courses, or spend time with my grandkids, or travel,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”