May 08, 2015 3:15PM
Searching for a new direction in life after more than two decades in the U.S. Navy, Lou Handte overcame nerves and his “old age” to enroll at Pittsburg State University.
“I was apprehensive about it because of my age and because it had been so long since I was in a classroom,” said Handte, who retired from military service in 2008. “I mean, some of the students in my classes were younger than my kids.”
Age difference or not, earning his college degree was something he felt he needed to do. And this weekend, he’ll do just that. Handte will be among the record 1,269 graduates receiving their diplomas during the 111th Commencement Ceremonies at Pitt State.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to overcome some of my apprehension and accomplish this goal,” said Handte, who will earn a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology degree. “It was always about quality of life for me. I knew a college degree would put me in a position to get a good job and set me and my family up in a good place.”
It wasn’t always easy, though. Living in Fredonia, Handte spent more than 25 hours a week on the road driving to and from campus.
“And I got my degree in three years, which means I was on overload most semesters,” he said. “I wanted to get it done. It was a struggle at times, but I kept the end goal in mind.”
Handte said the hardest part was adjusting to classroom work and exams. He added, however, that it was a tad easier than when he was last in school.
“My study habits have certainly changed,” he said. “I remember when I was kid just squeaking through. I didn’t care. School was just what you did. This time, it truly meant something and I took it very seriously.”
He said the newfound discipline was partly a result of his experience in the Navy, which he joined in 1987 after graduating from high school.
“My dad was in the Navy, so I was a Navy brat growing up,” he said. “So it seemed natural for me to join. It teaches you a lot about teamwork and hard work. It teaches you how to accomplish the tasks set before you.”
At no point was discipline and teamwork more necessary than in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Two and a half months after 9-11, I was on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, the first aircraft carrier deployed to Afghanistan after the attacks,” he said. “That was the most difficult and stressful part of my military career.”
But it didn’t come without a few perks.
“We had a lot of people come visit us, a lot of celebrities,” he said. “I got to meet Conan O’Brien, Alyssa Milano, and many other big names. That was cool.”
Now removed from a military career, becoming a college graduate from Pitt State has provided just as many fond memories.
“I very much enjoyed my time at PSU,” he said. “It’s nice to be in a program with so many industry partners and so much support from faculty. It was rough for me at times, but I knew Pitt State would always help me achieve my goal.”
After graduating, Handte will begin a job with Ruskin Manufacturing in Kansas City.