Graduating college is a huge milestone in life—especially when you get your diploma against all odds. A Massachusetts man who lost everything in the Great Recession has done just that. Michael Vaudreuil, 54, graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Saturday, where he has spent nearly the last decade working as a custodian.
After eight years of taking classes by day and cleaning the school by night, he emerged with a diploma in hand. Vaudreuil earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, according to CBS Boston. He told CBS, “You go through life and you say, ‘someday I’m going do this. I’m going do that,’ and very often in life you’re hit with a curve ball that kind of throws you off track.”
Vaudreuil’s curve ball and “rock bottom” was the recession that began in 2007. He had a successful plastering business until then. Once the recession hit, his business and all other things in his life went under. Vaudreuil lost his home and his car, eventually having to declare bankruptcy. “It left our heads spinning. It happened so fast,” he said, according to CBS.
“I was getting pretty depressed,’’ Vaudreuil told The Boston Globe. “I’m supposed to be the breadwinner. I’m supposed to go out there and kill the meal and bring it home, and I wasn’t doing that. I was feeling a tremendous loss of confidence. My ego was taking a big hit. I was just a shell of a person. It was a meaningless existence at that point.’’
That is when Vaudreuil took the only job he could find—He began working full-time as a custodian at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The university offers tuition-free classes to all of its employees, and Vaudreuil took them up on that offer. “The thought process was: This is it for me,’’ Vaudreuil told the Globe before commencement. “This is the last train out of the station. Your back’s against the cliff. You either jump off, or you fight for your life.’’
Vaudreuil ended up finding a passion for engineering. Within WPI’s labs, he even developed his own prototype for a reusable dust fuel cartridge, according to the Daily Mail.
Going back to school wasn’t always easy. The Globe reports that Vaudreuil sometimes wanted to quit, but his wife, Joyce, never let him. “She let me cry on her shoulder. She was my cheerleader,” said Vaudreuil. Other students would even encourage and accept him into group work easily, treating the 40-something man no different than their peers who were half his age.
He hopes that his achievement will reach anyone who has ever felt lost and serve as motivation for them to keep working towards a better life. As a man who made the best of losing almost everything, Vaudreuil is truly an inspiration to anyone who has ever hit rock bottom in their life.