The San Diego Union Tribute, published August 23 by John Wilkens:
At age 105, Bill Vogt has learned a thing or two.
Until Thursday afternoon, though, he’d never held in his hands the piece of paper proving what he’d known to be true about himself since 1935: That he is a graduate of San Diego State University.
At a small gathering on campus, school President Adela de la Torre gave him a diploma made to look like what he might have received 83 years ago.
“I hope I haven’t been a disgrace to the school,” Vogt quipped.
School officials believe he is the oldest of their alumni, and maybe the only one still living who attended when the campus was a teachers’ college located in University Heights. He started there in 1931, driving from his home in La Mesa in a Model T.
When the college moved to its present site he went with it, majoring in business — or, as it was called at the time, “commerce.”
He remembers having a lot of fun as an undergraduate. He was part of the group that put the first water-and-limestone “S” on Cowles Mountain.
But, he said Thursday, “I wasn’t a great student.” With Prohibition in place, he and his fraternity brothers may have spent a little too much time looking for booze and not enough time studying.
So in what should have been his final semester, one professor was so unimpressed with Vogt’s academic performance that he refused to give him credit for a class, leaving him a few units short of graduation.
He had to go back for another term to take a replacement course, finishing up in mid-year. The next graduation ceremony was months away.
He had other things on his mind than where to pick up his diploma. Like finding work in the middle of the Great Depression.
“We were all scrambling,” he said.
Vogt got a job with a title company in town, then worked on several education-related New Deal projects around the state. With World War II looming, a Navy friend of his father’s suggested that he sign up for officer’s school.
Assigned to naval intelligence, he spent the war in various postings. He also served in the Korean War, and then went to the Pentagon, where he had a front-row seat for the Cuban Missile Crisis and the seizure in 1968 of the USS Pueblo by North Korean forces.
Vogt retired from the military in 1970 and settled back home in San Diego, into a house that he and his wife, Lillian, had built on Mount Soledad. He then had a brief second career, working a half-dozen years as a school administrator, before retiring for good.
His wife died in 2013.
Over the years, Vogt kept tabs on his alma mater. He cheered for the football and basketball teams. He marveled at how big the campus was getting.
In May, he decided to join the alumni association, as a life member. He was enticed by an offer of a free wooden diploma frame for anyone who signed up.
Now all he needed was a diploma.
Sandra Cook, associate vice president for enrollment management, had her staff search the archives to find his academic records, confirming that he had earned a bachelor of arts degree.
“There’s so much bad news in the world,” Cook said. “It was a treat to have something like this to work on.”
Her office then put together the diploma, made to look as close as possible to the ones handed out in 1935, right down his now outdated major, Commerce.
Vogt’s son, Bob, said his father was a little nervous Thursday morning, worried about being an oddity. “They just want to see me because I’m old,” he grumbled.
But during the gathering, De la Torre and Dan Montoya, an assistant vice president, talked about the “living legacy” Vogt represents, how he is an important bridge from the school’s past to its present.
“Bill was an Aztec before this campus was even built,” Montoya said.
When he was handed the diploma, Vogt said, “It’s beautiful. To think that I would ever get this, let alone in this way, is unbelievable.” He joked about being the only person ever to have a private graduation ceremony.
“I’m going to hang it on the wall with pride,” he said.
After the ceremony, as Vogt accepted congratulations from well-wishers and posed for photos, his son shook his head in wonder at his father’s spunk and longevity.
“The first thing he would tell you is he’s been lucky,” Bob Vogt, 69, said.
But his father is also “a careful guy,” Vogt said, “a creature of moderation.” If he wants a belt of bourbon, he takes it. If he wants some bacon, he eats it.
“He doesn’t deny himself anything, but he also doesn’t do anything to excess,” his son said.
And his father reads, all the time. Newspapers, magazines, books. He pays attention to current events, gives voice to his opinions, knows who Taylor Swift is.
Bob Vogt said he already has an epitaph in mind, one that helps explain why his father went to college in the first place, all those years ago:
“Curiosity didn’t kill this cat.”