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MORGANTOWN, W.V. (CNN) — It took NBA star Shaquille O'Neal 11 years to earn his undergraduate degree. Wisconsin grandmother Mary Jo Meyer needed 42 years to get hers.
But when it comes to extended college careers, Anthony Brutto, 94, has them both beat by a mile.
Brutto will graduate from West Virginia University on Sunday, 76 years after he enrolled as a freshman in 1939. Although World War II, illness and fate conspired against him, he was determined to earn his degree.
"It was always important to me to graduate," Brutto said in a profile on the university's website.
Brutto, who lives near the university's campus in Morgantown, will be one of the oldest graduates in the history of WVU when he is awarded his bachelor of arts degree on Sunday, joining 4,500 other students receiving diplomas during the school's commencement weekend.
A West Virginia native born into an Italian immigrant family, Brutto entered WVU at age 18. He first majored in engineering and was determined to graduate in four years, but World War II interrupted his plans.
Brutto was drafted in 1942, as he was nearing graduation. He spent more than three years serving in the Army Air Corps, applying Army training and skills from his WVU metalworking classes to help build and repair P39 and P49 bombers.
Brutto blows out celebratory candles as his daughter, Lisa Bridges, watches. Photo credit: Brian Persinger/West Virginia University
In 1946, Brutto re-enrolled at West Virginia to finish his degree. But again he needed to drop out, this time to take care of his ailing wife.
Later, school took a back seat to his career. For much of his working life, Brutto was a machinist at various factories and plants. A lifelong woodworker, he also tapped into his early design training to handcraft wooden birds and other figurines, which he still makes and sells to stores in several states.
Finally, Brutto found the time and the energy to return to the school he left more than seven decades ago.
His education cost a bit more this time around than his $50 college tuition in 1939. But he said it was worth it.
"I think it's wonderful that he's getting this after all these years," Donna Brutto told ABC News. "He most certainly deserves it."
Asked by a university interviewer whether he plans to pursue a master's degree, Brutto chuckled.
"No. I think I'll take a break for a while," he said.
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