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50 years after dropping out, 86-year-old finally graduates, as grandchildren look on

Leo Benatar, 86, may have grandchildren and a successful career as an executive behind him, but now he's got another big achievement to check off of his bucket list: receiving a diploma decades after dropping out.

On Saturday, Benatar, who started a master's program at Georgia Tech in 1954 but left school two years later, finally walked in his cap and gown.

He had completed all the credits he needed for the degree in industrial engineering way back then, but couldn't find a professor to hear his dissertation.

But then, eight years after he left, he qualified for a diploma when the requirements changed.

But it took him almost 50 years to get an answer.

"When I realized I wanted to graduate and get my degree, I kept talking to the school for months and months, but because there was no electronic record and only a paper trail," he told TODAY.

"It was very hard for them to figure out if I had actually qualified or not."

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In December, he finally got the call that he would be able to walk with the other graduates in May and receive a Master of Science degree.

"I couldn't believe my ears," he said.

Master's degree aside, Benatar is already a distinguished alum of Georgia Tech.

The former manufacturing executive has an entrance at the school named for him.

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Still, he insisted the hubbub over his accomplishment isn't all about him.

It's about anyone who wants to finish what they started.

"At any age, you can get more education," he added. "At any time, you can get more learning done. And any experience in the classroom is beneficial."

"I've heard from former friends that hadn't been in touch with me for years," he added. "And I've had the satisfaction of knowing I really can inspire others, too."

But this isn't the finish line for Benatar. After all, just because he has a degree doesn't mean he can't continue to take classes — or even venture back into the workforce.

His children have asked him to prepare a new resume now that he has the new degree.

"To anyone that runs into obstacles, just persevere," he said. "If it's important, don't give up. If it wasn't important, you would never have started it in the first place."

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