Vietnam veteran to celebrate Golden Graduation after missing ’60s ceremony
John Shaw left college to serve his country just three months before he could participate in his commencement ceremony alongside his twin brother, Gerald, and his future wife, Barbara.
“My diploma was mailed to me, which was fine,” Shaw said. “But I always felt I missed out.”
Fifty years later, Shaw, now 72, will formally participate in UIC’s December Commencement as a Golden Graduate, an opportunity Shaw says he wouldn’t dream of passing up.
“My education is something I have valued for my entire life,” he said.
Initially a student at the Navy Pier Campus, Shaw joined the Chicago Circle Campus when it opened in 1965, where he studied as a liberal arts student, majoring in geography and minoring in political science and history.
“There was a big ribbon cutting and we all went and attended with Mayor Daley and a host of dignitaries,” he recalled. “Shortly thereafter, both my brother and I enrolled in the Army ROTC program, and in about 1966, I took a job at University Hall with the registration department, where I met Barbara.”
Shaw finished his academic and ROTC requirements in February 1968. That March, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
“Between March and June commencement, I was called into active duty,” Shaw said.
He reported to Fort Lee, Virginia, for training in the Quartermaster Corps before serving in Vietnam. When Shaw’s service ended in May 1970, he had been awarded two Bronze Stars, one for meritorious service and one for valor.
He had also already gotten married to Barbara, who also studied liberal arts and sciences at the university. The couple later had children, and Shaw put his leadership skills to use in other areas.
“I worked for the State of Illinois as an employment and veterans representative for three years, and then I went on to a 31-year career as a human resource specialist and a supervisor for the federal government, the U.S. General Services Administration,” Shaw said.
And when both of their kids went to college, the family’s history with UIC strengthened.
Their son, Thomas, graduated from the College of Business with honors. He’s now a partner at an accounting firm in downtown Chicago. Their daughter, Cathleen, received a degree in physical therapy and has been practicing in the field for 25 years.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the education not only both of us received, but the education our son and daughter received, especially in completely different fields,” Shaw said. “We can’t say enough about it.”
Even in retirement, Shaw and his wife are still busy fulfilling the UIC mission of doing good and giving back.
Shaw has been an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. for about 10 years.
This month, he was among 200 veterans in the state who were honored by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Illinois Bicentennial Office for continuing to make extraordinary contributions to the people of Illinois.
Shaw said he’s excited to celebrate his experience at UIC by finally crossing the graduation stage. Although his brother can’t attend to share the meaningful moment with him, his wife will.
“I was very, very thankful that the University of Illinois was doing this, and since Barbara and I both graduated in 1968, and although Barbara participated in the commencement exercise, she wanted to do it again with me,” said Shaw. “I’m delighted.”