Three decades later, Dan Wehrman has diploma in hand
For years, it bothered him. Then life would intervene, and Dan Wehrman would push the nagging concern over the college diploma he lacked to the back burner of his mind. Still, time and again, he’d regret that he’d come so close to graduating, but in the end, no cigar.
Although the political science major had walked with fellow classmates at Commencement in 1978, Wehrman was, in fact, seven units short.
He’d had a waiver to earn the missing units at a community college and complete his degree requirements, but all too quickly, real life beckoned, and he had to get back to work driving his long distance truck route.
Years passed. He bought his own rig, married the pretty waitress at one of his favorite truck stops, had children, kept working, but every once in a while, the degree that he’d come so close to earning would come to mind.
Finally, three decades later, he’s got that diploma in hand. There were times when he wasn’t sure the day would ever come. Though he’d originally intended to study and practice law, he’d gotten used to the money he earned driving a truck as a student.
“You only had to be 18 to drive tractor trailers then,” he recalls. “I moved furniture throughout California, Oregon and Washington.”
Although he’d been awarded a full scholarship, there were still living expenses to consider, and driving a truck paid the bills. Eventually, he tired of the road and acquired a moving company in Corvallis, Ore.
Energetic, fit and tan, the 54-year-old Wehrman clearly likes to keep busy. In the early ’90s, he saw an ad in the newspaper looking for volunteer firefighters and decided to sign up.
“I passed the agility test and proved I could do the physical part of the job, and got accepted as a volunteer.” Before long, he completed all the EMT medical training, was hired on as a firefighter (“24 hours on, 48 hours off”) and was subsequently promoted to lieutenant, all while continuing to run his company, Corvallis Moving and Storage.
But periodically, USD would come to mind. When mailings came from the alumni association, Wehrman would always take time to write a check, but with a hint of regret, an irksome itch that said, “I sure would like to finish up those last seven units.”
So he got even busier than usual, and racked up nine units at a local community college. Then he found out that the dean that had originally granted the waiver for those seven missing units had since retired, and the requirements had changed. Wehrman figured it just wasn’t meant to be.
But last year, he and his wife, Sandy, found themselves with a free day in San Diego during a cruise to Mexico. At his wife’s urging, Wehrman made his way to campus, determined to talk to someone in person about doing what it took to complete his undergraduate degree.
“I’d tried the Internet, letters, phone calls, but nothing was working. By this time, both of my daughters had graduated from college, and here I was, still with no degree.”
So he roamed from building to building, looking for answers. “I finally found the open door of (Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs) Pamela Gray Payton. She called the registrar for me, and told me to reapply to the university, then they’d review my file and let me know.”
A month or so later, Wehrman wrote a follow-up letter to College of Arts and Sciences’ Assistant Dean Pauline Powell, who said the words he’d been waiting to hear for 35 years: “Let’s get you your degree.”
“She was tireless,” he marvels. “She walked me through the process, went over my transcripts, we dug up course descriptions from 1974 and looked at how it would all fit together.” At the end of the process, it turned out all he needed was one upper-division writing course.
“I applied to Oregon State in December of 2009, started in January 2010, finished in March 2010 and now, in June, I’m getting my degree from USD.” Wehrman’s smile is transcendent.
On campus a week before Commencement, he’s clad in a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and sneakers, and has the satisfied air of a man enjoying the first day of a long overdue vacation. He is also wearing his USD class ring.
“Getting my degree here, now, 35 years later, is more a reflection on USD and Dean Powell and Ms. Gray Payton than anything I’ve done,” he says with characteristic charm. “My graduation is a reflection of everyone here.”
As for what’s next?
“I’m thinking about retiring from the fire department in two years. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to school.”