Joseph DiVincenzo is the self-described poster child for why it is never too late to go back to school.
DiVincenzo, 48, is about to receive his bachelor’s degree in accounting. After a long journey of working at restaurants, call centers and taking a few college-level classes before deciding to earn a degree in accounting, he reflected on his choice to go to college at a non-traditional time in his life.
“I’m relieved, thrilled. I never thought that I would actually get my bachelor’s in accounting, never thought I’d be a college graduate,” DiVincenzo said.
After graduating from Cibola High School in 1987, he said he didn’t feel the urge to attend college.
In the 1990s, he worked at Blake’s Lotaburger and Pizza Hut, rising to the ranks of assistant manager and general manager, respectively. He was then hired by El Pinto as a cook.
Throughout the 2000s, he worked for Sprint and then UnitedHealthcare as a customer service representative in Albuquerque.
“I just got tired of that after a while, people yelling at you all day,” he said. “So, I said, I need to do something with my life, I want to learn something.”
DiVincenzo received his associate’s degree in accounting from Central New Mexico Community College in 2013. He continued to attend CNM to finish his prerequisite classes for the accounting program at the University of New Mexico and was accepted into the Anderson School of Management in 2016.
He will be the first in his immediate family to earn an undergraduate degree.
DiVincenzo said that since attending UNM, he has learned more than just how to be an accountant.
“I’ve learned a lot. Not just technical skills, not just how to do accounting, but also soft skills, like how to get along with people, how to work in a group,” he said. “I feel like I’ve broadened my horizons since I’ve been here, at UNM.”
While twice as old as most of his peers, DiVincenzo said he never felt out of place.
“I see myself as just part of the college crowd — just doing the same thing they’re doing, we’re all on a level surface. I see myself as an Anderson student just like everyone else,” DiVincenzo said.
Richard Brody, Ph.D. and professor of accounting at ASM had DiVincenzo in his auditing class this semester. Brody described DiVincenzo as a quiet but good student who always sat in the front. DiVincenzo’s age did help, however, when Brody would reference popular culture from the late 20th century.
“There are lots of times when I’ll make a reference in class and I’ll look at someone like Joe, because everyone else has no idea,” Brody said.
Brody said that in his class, students are tasked with evaluating their group members — DiVincenzo’s peers had high praise for his performance.
“His group members had nothing but good things to say about him in their evaluations,” Brody said.
For DiVincenzo, balancing school and life was a challenge, but he said his wife of 15 years was there to help him through it all.
“My wife has been so supportive of me since I’ve been going to college. She wants to go out maybe on the weekends or something and I say, ‘Hey, I need to do this report, I need to study for this test,’ and it’s hard, but she’s been really understanding of it,” DiVincenzo said.
He said his plan after college is to get a job as an accountant, so he can gain experience in the field before taking the Certified Public Accountant exam.
While he does not think college is for everyone, DiVincenzo said he would not take back his decision to attend for anything.
“I was tired of making low wages,” he said. “I just had a job instead of a career. I wanted to become something, and I figured the only way to do that is to go back to college and earn my degree.”
Tom Hanlon is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.