Gac Filipaj is a 52 year-old refugee from the former Yugoslavia who works as a janitor at Columbia University.

He’s not the usual success story, but he is a true inspiration.

An ethnic Albanian, Gac was about to be drafted into the Yugoslav army.  He feared that he would be forced to fight against other Albanians, so he escaped and emigrated to America, living with an uncle in the Bronx.

He didn’t speak a word of English, so he learned the language while working as a restaurant busboy.

He found a job as a janitor at Columbia University, after learning from his uncle that it was the best learning institution in the New York area.

He enrolled in a bachelor’s degree in Classics, attended classes in the morning and would go back to his small room to study after working the 2:30 to 11:00 evening shift as a cleaner.  After 12 years of study, he finally graduated with honors, much to the delight of everyone who knows him.

And he’s not done yet, aiming to complete his Master’s and perhaps even his Ph.D.

I love this story because it reminds me of a few great principles of success.

If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, you can achieve it – Filipaj had plenty of reasons not to aim high.  But he didn’t allow language barriers, age or the fact that Columbia is an elite Ivy League school to deter him from his goal of getting an education.  Don’t excuse yourself from doing remarkable things with your life.  Just go for it!

It’s never too late – Graduating at the age of 52 is a remarkable achievement and one that Filipaj should be extremely proud of.  I’ve coached a lot of people who thought that it was too late to learn new skills or expand their minds.  I love this reminder that it’s never too late to fulfill your potential.

The value of hard work – Immediately after the graduation ceremony, Filipaj picked up his dustpan and got to work cleaning up the mess from the event.  He’s clearly not one to rest on his laurels and I’m sure that the future is bright for this remarkable man if he continues his current work-rate.

Congratulations Gac Filipaj on your graduation.

To graduate from an Ivy League college is a terrific achievement, but to do so with has background is truly inspirational.

What inspires you about Gac Filipaj?

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