Way back in 1990 I clipped an article from Parade Magazine (the little magazine that was found in many editions of the Sunday paper a long time ago). The article was entitled “It’s Such a Pleasure to Learn” and it was the story of John Morton-Finney–a 100 year old man who had earned 11 college degrees! I was so inspired by his life story, and tucked the article away…just recently I stumbled across it again and I just had to share this man’s incredible story with you.
John Morton-Finney was born to a former slave and grew up dirt poor. However, he was a Christian and saw life as endless possibilities, even with much discrimination and persecution thrown against him. He would walk six miles one way to the closest school just to receive an education. The first book he ever bought was Webster’s Dictionary…it cost him all the money he had–35 cents. As a young man became a soldier in the US Army from 1911-1914 as served as a part of the “Buffalo Soldier” regiment in the Philippines. During World War I he re-enlisted and fought in the trenches. When asked how he felt about fighting for a country that denied him much, he responded:
“Although my country restrained me by law and by custom, it was still my country. There was no country in Africa that i belonged to. This is where I lived. I believed I should fight for this, my country. And I would do the same today.”
After the war he earned the first of four bachelor’s degrees (law, history, mathematics, and French). He had a total of five law degrees, and master’s degrees from Indiana University (education and later French), He was awarded two honorary doctorates, one in 1985 from Lincoln University, and the other from Butler University. Over the course of his life he became fluent in six languages; French, Latin, Greek, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. He earned his last bachelor’s degree at the youthful age of 75.
Mr. Morton-Finney taught in the Indiana public schools for over 50 years. Fifty years of learning and teaching. When asked why he spent so much time learning and teaching, he simply responded: “It’s such a pleasure to learn.” They asked him to retire in 1957 and he said, “We waste a great treasure retiring people too soon. It’s called experience.”
One day, in a second grade classroom at Mary E. Nicholson School in Indiana, a seven year old boy was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Little Ethan Daly said, “When I grow up, I want to be an 11 degree man. I might get 11 degrees teaching, being a lawyer, playing the piano. I wish the 11 degree man would come to our school and tell me how he did it.” He had heard about John Morton-Finney.
Dr. Morton-Finney passed away in 1998 at the age of 107, probably reading something in Greek or Latin, and thinking about the next think he wanted to learn.