Sometimes college can be more than a four or five year experience. But when Richard S. Thomas of West Springfield enrolled at American International College, he probably didn't realize it would take 60 years to earn his bachelor's degree.

Thomas finished this month, earning a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts. AIC president Vince M. Maniaci presented Thomas with his diploma at a special luncheon ceremony, Wednesday, August 8.

A 1949 graduate of Cathedral High School, transferred to AIC from St. Michael's College in 1952, but was academically dismissed in 1956.

"I had recently been married and was starting my business, I just wasn't focused on college," he said.

He went on to become a successful businessman in the area. He was president/owner of Richard S. Thomas Real Estate with offices in Mass. and Conn.; he served on Ethics Committee for the Board of Realtors; and served as vice president of the Better Business Bureau;

In addition to his business career, Thomas had a successful political career as the longest serving Hampden County Commissioner (24 years) in their 186+year history. While serving on the commission, the Hampden County Hall of Justice, Chicopee, Palmer and Holyoke Court Houses were built and dedicated.

He also served as advisor to U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Mike Gravel.

Last year Thomas decided it was time to finish what he had started some 60 years ago. "Not finishing college was my biggest failure, and it's truly been on mind for 60 years," Thomas said.

So, at age 81, he contacted Pamela Robinson, director of continuing education at AIC and told her he wanted to earn his degree. "AIC has always been close to my heart. I liked the professors and I like the school's attitude," he said.

Robinson said Thomas had to overcome some obstacles to earn his bachelor's degree. "He had a low grade point average the first time around, so he not only needed credits, but also had to improve the G.P.A. to at least a 2.0," she said.

No problem. Thomas took nine classes and earned A's in eight of them. "I never had earned an A in my life, he said. "This time around it was much easier for me."

Despite his successful business and political careers, Thomas said what he is most proud of is finally earning his degree from AIC.