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Graduate Spotlight: Joel "Barry" Carp

By Betsy Hnath

Joel "Barry" Carp's undergraduate journey mirrors many others at Old Dominion University. He's the child of a military household who settled in Norfolk; he took a break between starting and finishing his degree; and he's a first-generation college student.

But Carp differs from his classmates in one very distinct way: he's 76 years old.

Carp received his bachelor's in political science and geography during ODU's Commencement Ceremony Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. And though it's taken more than 50 years - he took his first class at the University in 1967 - he never stopped believing he would finish what he started.

"I knew I had a goal in mind. I knew that this was something I wanted to do. And I knew it was something I could do," Carp said.

Born in Bridgeport, Conn., Carp moved to Norfolk at age 11. The son of a military father, his mother served as his primary motivation to go to college after he graduated from Maury High School in Norfolk in 1959.

"When I was young she'd say, 'You know, I'm the only one who graduated from high school.' I thought, 'I think I'm going to do you one better.'"

Carp started at ODU in 1967.

"In those early years it was just getting the fundamentals like English and math," Carp said. "But even then, I knew that history or geography had to be included in my program some way."

He left the University in 1971 for a state health care job to help support his young family.

"I preached the gospel of Medicaid for 20 years," Carp said. He spent about another 10 years as a patient accounts manager in various hospitals.

While working in the field of finance, for pleasure he read volumes on history and politics. So when he returned to school a degree in the field was a natural.

"What is it that makes the world go around? Money," Carp said. "Columbus would never have gotten out of the boat without money from Isabela and Ferdinand."

While he did take classes in the 1980s at Virginia Wesleyan College, Carp ultimately returned to ODU in 2012 after he retired from the health care business.

By then all four of his children were grown. His oldest son even graduated from ODU in political science and geography - the same major Carp ultimately would find himself pursuing years later.

"I told my son I was following in his footsteps," Carp said. "My kids all think this is something else."

The campus had changed considerably in the decades since Carp had taken any courses, but he said mixing with the younger students was the "easiest part about the program."

"They listened when I had something to say because I lived through a lot of the events that we were learning about in the books," he said.

Carp said he learned from his classmates, too.

"I'm conservative and very often the students who spoke would offer a liberal perspective," Carp said. "I was able to glean some ideas and concepts I wouldn't have ordinarily thought about.

"Some of the comments enabled me to understand that there is a different point of view that may have some interlocking aspects to mine rather than one that's totally contrary."

Carp hopes to use that perspective in the next phase of his education: graduate school. He said he'd like to end up teaching others about how civilizations can learn from historical patterns.

"In a way, you could say I was teaching from day one. I was helping providers figure out how to get paid correctly, so when I walked into a room with a hundred people in it, you can believe they hung on every word I said. I thought 'Maybe this teaching thing isn't so bad.'"

Though Carp continues to look ahead, he is still taking time to revel in the present.

"When I started, I saw in the distance this goal. Now that it's been achieved, I feel a certain effervescence about it," Carp said. "There will be a lot of emotion. It's something I look forward to in every way."

Read more about Carp in an upcoming issue of Monarch Magazine.

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