Xavier degree: Walter Bunker, 90, earns college degree from his 'favorite school'

NORWOOD, Ohio -- Walter Bunker was one of more than 1,100 college students who heard their name called and walked across the stage at Cintas Center on Saturday as part of Xavier University's commencement ceremony.

But unlike the other students who took part in the rite of passage, Bunker won't be looking for a job or worry about paying back student loans.

That's because he's 90 years old. And Saturday ended a 70-year journey to a bachelor's degree.


The Kenwood resident began his college experience 1941 when he attended the Cincinnati College of Music on a violin scholarship. It was nearly 12 years before it merged with the College of Music of Cincinnati to form the famed Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

RELATED: Watch Walter's walk-through
MORE: Read the story by XU

But he left to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By 1943 he was flying as a bombardier in combat missions over France and Germany during World War II.

After receiving an honorary medical discharge in 1944, he continued his pursuit of his degree after various schools including the University of Notre Dame and Xavier over the next seven decades.

He met the love of his life and future wife Martha Heekin while temporarily enrolled at XU in 1946. Bunker had to drop out because of medical reasons.

Working as a real estate agent, building a family, publishing several stories and various health issues got in the way of him fulfilling his lifelong dream of earning a diploma over the years. He even endured a recent bout with cancer.

But despite all he's accomplished, Bunker said he felt a bit out of place among his family members, given that all 10 of his children have at least an undergraduate degree. He's also the son of a Xavier graduate and one of his grandchildren is set to graduate from the school in two years.

“My son can say, ‘I have a master’s degree from Purdue.’ My daughter in-law, ‘I have a master’s from Xavier,’ and my niece said she just got her master’s degree from North Carolina,” Bunker told Xavier University earlier this month . “I was thinking, I am getting older by degrees, so why don’t I get a degree?”

Last August he answered his own rhetorical question by calling Xavier to find out about his status as a student. He said he picked the university because it's his "favorite school."

Not long after he reached out to the university, Mary Kay Meyer in the Office of the Registrar at XU informed Brunker that his dream was very much in reach, mostly because some of his military training counted toward missing credits.

“She called me and said, ‘Mr. Bunker, you are very close to getting your degree. You only need two credits.’ I didn’t even need a full course,” he recalled to the writer for Xavier's website.

Bunker got additional independent study credits by writing stories for visiting professor Bill Boyce.

It was Boyce who told Bunker he had achieved his goal and would take part in Xavier's 176th commencement ceremonies.

“Bill emailed me and said, ‘Walter, you can start sending out your invitations.'''

Finally, after more than 70 years of waiting, Bunker earned the right to march across the stage to accept his Bachelor of Arts degree. He graduated cum laude.

“Walter Seton Bunker,” the public address announcer read Saturday as his family, friends and the thousands of people in attendance cheered him across the stage. They continued to applaud as a few of his life achievements were read and he made a subtle celebratory fist pump.

The crowd grew even louder when Bunker's escort and fellow grad Ryan Hoefer joined him at center stage. Hoefer, who fought in the Iraq War, was also honored for earning his bachelor's degree.

Upon receiving their diplomas, the two new college grads stopped, faced the crowd and crossed their arms to make an “X,” a physical symbol used by many Xavier students to indicate their support for the university.

They were joined in making symbol by Xavier President Michael Graham, SJ.

All three men received a standing ovation.

So, what's next for Bunker?

Given his list of accomplishments and achievements over the past 90 years it would seem that almost anything possible. But it seems he has one particular dream in mind.

“I want to be a cowboy.”

Watch a behind-the-scenes look at Bunker and Hoefer preparing for commencement

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