Gabe Del Bello graduated from McMaster University on Friday, 30 years after he began his studies there.

Following right behind him to accept his own degree was Del Bello's 23-year-old son, Johnny.

"I just wish I was going across the stage first," jokes Johnny.

The elder Del Bello, now 49, began his studies at McMaster 30 years ago, in 1983. But he had to cut his university career short, just one course shy of the degree, after the death of his mother. He decided he had to go to work. 

The Hamilton man started a family, grew a successful business and raised two children, Johnny and Alex. As his own kids approached their graduations, Del Bello's thoughts turned to his own studies and the degree he had never quite finished.

"I thought I was short a lot more than I was and then when I actually got my transcript pulled and noticed that it was only three units, that's just a night course."

Classmates

He decided to sign up for one and chose Media, Art, and Anthropology, a class he took with his daughter Alex.

"It was kind of nice that I could go with them," says Del Bello. "I don't think I would have if…I wasn't able to take something with them."

A few things had changed, Del Bello says, after 30 years out of school.

"It was a lot easier, I think, nowadays just because of the technology you have at your finger tips. Instead of me writing out a whole essay on 10 pieces of paper, you can actually just use a laptop and not worry about writing it out and getting it typed."

"But you still wrote your essay out on paper before you typed it," Alex interject.

Attending a university class with her dad was awkward, she says.

"At first I was like, OK, I'm going to be sitting beside, not an old man, but you know what I mean? People are probably going to be like 'that's kind of weird'… I'm sure eventually they figured it out because we sat beside each other every class."

Re-adjustment process

It wasn't easy for Del Bello to readjust to life as a student. After writing the class's midterm, he thought his academic comeback was doomed, Alex says.

"It was the first thing we did when we got back, the midterm, and he gets out and says 'That's it, it's over… I should never have came back,'" Alex recalls, waving her hands in the air imitating her father. "I was like 'no, no. It's okay… we'll just wait for the mark,' and he ended up getting a 60 or something. It wasn't that bad."

"I went to talk to the professor, cause it was a disaster what I wrote," Del Bello says. "It was just so incoherent. I had to explain to her, 'Well hey, it's been like 30 years since I wrote an essay....'

"When you go write a midterm…whatever's in your mind is what you're getting. Well, that's what they got."

Del Bello ended up finishing the class with a B+.

"He got a higher mark on his essay than me!" Alex says. "He was so worried, didn't write an essay in how long? Like 30 years, and he gets, what, 5 more percent than me? I was like, 'you have to be kidding me.' "

'Why not just finish it?'

Del Bello says the major push for him was the idea of graduating with his children.

"They were getting their degrees," says Del Bello. "I thought well, 'You know what? I worked so hard when I was young to be where they were at and I saw how they succeeded and got that piece of paper that I went three years for, four years for, why not just finish it?' "

Del Bello and his son Johnny graduated together on Friday with degrees in political science. Alex graduated on Tuesday with a degree in art history.