Rutgers student headed for graduation, 4 decades late
Frank Giordano had a lot to be proud of as he finished his final weeks at Rutgers University-Camden. It was 1972, and the shaggy-haired senior from Cherry Hill had aced most of his business classes and had even started a commercial-trailer company in Philadelphia.
Frank Giordano had a lot to be proud of as he finished his final weeks at Rutgers University-Camden.
It was 1972, and the shaggy-haired senior from Cherry Hill had aced most of his business classes and had even started a commercial-trailer company in Philadelphia.
There was just that one little required gym class he had never gotten around to taking.
All these years later, Giordano, now of Moorestown, is such a successful businessman that his portrait hangs in the main ballroom at the Union League of Philadelphia. The guy pals around with Supreme Court justices.
But Rutgers never did get around to giving him that degree.
"The gym class," Giordano said.
On Monday morning, Giordano, 59, a new grandfather, will finally receive his diploma during the Rutgers School of Business-Camden graduation ceremony at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
And he didn't have to do any push-ups or medicine-ball workouts. Not even climb a rope.
"I'm thrilled," he said. "I bought my cap and gown and everything."
When Giordano was growing up, his pop owned a trailer-repair company on Washington Avenue in Philadelphia, where he'd fix up semitrailers. In high school, Giordano collected the leftover aluminum and metal, selling it to scrap yards.
It was a smart move.
By his freshman year at Rutgers, he had saved enough to buy two trailers to lease to trucking companies.
A professor helped shuffle Giordano's schedule so his classes were all in the morning. Most days, he said, he finished classes by noon and then headed to the shop, where he was putting in 40 to 50 hours a week at the shop.
"I'd take the Rutgers parking sticker out of my window so customers didn't know I was a college student," he said.
Giordano was making the dean's list and amassing a trailer mini-empire. By senior year he had 800 trailers out for rent for 50 bucks a week.
"He worked so hard," said his then-sweetheart, Dottie, now his wife.
Giordano paid tuition, which (get ready to shriek, parents) was $600 a semester, out of his pocket.
Until sometime before 1980, Rutgers required that each student have one semester of physical education, Rutgers spokesman Mike Sepanic said.
Gym classes were held at the old Camden YMCA, Sepanic said.
"A lot of the faculty from that time have long retired," he said, "but I'm pretty sure the classes involved running and swimming."
Giordano kept postponing the class. "I couldn't see myself in gym class when I had a business to run," he said.
Then, one day in his senior year, he tripped while walking to meet Dottie for lunch, breaking a bone in a foot.
"That sealed it," he said.
He got the news when he walked into the registrar's office a few weeks before graduation.
"Really?" he said.
In the years after leaving Rutgers, Dottie encouraged her husband to put his gym shorts on.
"I wanted him to get the piece of paper," she said.
But life got in the way. The couple married and had three children, and the trailer business grew to 22 branches in 14 states.
"I was busy," Giordano said.
In 1994, he struck gold by selling chunks of his company to General Electric and an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway; he still operates a piece of the business on a 35-acre lot in Vincentown.
In recent years, he has gotten more involved in Rutgers affairs.
His lack of a diploma tugged at him.
"It was unfinished business," he said. "A businessman never likes unfinished business."
Six months ago, Giordano was having lunch at the Union League (where he was president in 2005-06) with the acting dean of the Rutgers-Camden business school, Rayman Solomon.
Giordano was recommending ways he could help increase Rutgers' profile in Philly. Solomon asked if there was anything Rutgers could do for him.
"Is it possible I could get my diploma?" Giordano asked.
"We didn't give you a diploma over that?" Solomon said after hearing the story.
Giordano's transcript was put before a faculty committee.
"It was a no-brainer," Solomon said. "He deserves it."
Since he fulfilled all his other classes, and the gym requirement is long gone, Giordano's diploma will be official, not an honorary degree. It will be dated 1972.
Besides, with more time on his hands these days, Giordano takes his fitness more seriously, he said.
"I work out four times a week," he said, preparing for a workout in the Union League's fitness center.
Giordano's arms and chest are solid, but so is his spare tire.
"I'm 5-foot-8 and overweight," he said, patting his belly. "I put on 20 pounds when I was president of the league from all the dinners and events. I still haven't lost it."
Giordano usually began his workout with a brisk walk on a treadmill.
"I can do 11 pull-ups and 100 crunches," he offered as proof of his credentials.
Giordano eased the treadmill up to a speed of 4.5 and offered bits of advice for his fellow graduates.
"Follow your interests and get involved in nonprofit boards," he said, breaking into a slow jog. "They're good for networking and help broaden your knowledge and experience."
"Don't wait for the phone to ring," he added. "Be aggressive, and get involved in the businesses that are about tomorrow: health care, technology, sustainability."
And when the market's right, he said, "invest in gold."
Giordano's family will be there Monday: Dottie, his kids, and his baby granddaughter, Chloe Alexandra.
"I'll probably scoop her up in my arms when I walk up there," he said.