Wayne State University
Robert Reece

Alumnus earns degree at 84.

Robert Reece

Never too late

Alumnus earns degree at 84

Robert Reece recently proved that there’s never a wrong time to achieve your goals.

Reece, 84, received his bachelor’s in mortuary science in May. He had previously attended classes at Wayne State more than 50 years earlier, but a degree in his focus area was not available at that time. Still, Reece never gave up on his goal to earn a bachelor’s before his 85th birthday.

“I graduated in 1961 with a three-year certificate in mortuary science,” he said. “I’d always wanted a college degree, so this was my chance to pursue one in a field that I already had some experience in.”

Reece, who lives in Los Angeles and co-owns a pension consulting business, said pursuing the degree was part of his commitment to lifelong learning. He takes free online courses on a variety of subjects — currently, he’s taking one about alien worlds; next month, Mandarin — and reads three to four new books a year.

That commitment paid off when Reece re-enrolled at Wayne State. While working with an admission counselor, he learned that his previous studies went a long way toward earning his bachelor’s. His experience with computers allowed him to test out of computer literacy, and he was also able to test out of a foreign language. All that was left was a directed study course and a logic course, which Reece described as his biggest challenge.

“The first day, our professor told us that if we weren’t skilled in math, we’d have a hard time,” he said. “I put 60 to 70 hours a week into it for the four or five months I was in the class. Thankfully, my business partner was willing to pick up the workload.”

Reece, who grew up in the Detroit area, enlisted in the U.S. Navy and, afterward, finished his high school requirements at Cass Tech. He spent a year at Adrian College before transferring to Wayne State to study mortuary science, a field he worked in for a few years before opening his current practice. As early proof of Reece’s knack for learning and adapting, one of his first clients came from Brazil. Reece didn’t speak the language, but that didn’t deter him; he simply decided to learn Portuguese.

Reece still regularly works 60 hours a week, often traveling to Brazil for several weeks at a time. He plans to keep up with his learning and said he constantly is trying to improve himself. He credits diet and exercise with keeping him energized and focused.

“I’m a vegetarian,” he said. “And I’m very active. Every day, I go for a run in the mountains. I play mind games designed for astronauts; I keep my body in shape, and I keep my mind in shape. I plan to be here for a long time.”

Back to spotlights