83-year-old Vietnam War veteran receives Ph. D. from LSU despite setbacks

Updated: Dec. 14, 2018 at 4:06 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After pursuing the academic degree for most of his life, a Vietnam War veteran received his Ph. D. from Louisiana State University Friday.

Johnnie Jones is a lifelong learner who isn’t letting his age stop him.

“Every person regardless of his station in life, or his or her limitations, should seek to be the best he or she can really be. And you spend your time living not thinking about dying. Death will take care of itself,” Jones said.

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The veteran Marine said his classmates have enjoyed having him in their classes.

“It was really comical, most of my classmates are young enough to be my grandchildren and they found it amazing at my age that I would be sitting in a classroom. They thought I was nuts. They didn’t quite understand what motivated me. They’re all preparing for occupations, but my occupation was over. I had retired. I was just there for self-edification,” said Jones. “I told them the reason why I was doing that, is because to me age is something that we have been socialized to believe that it is one of the most important things in our life. At 15, you’re supposed to be doing this, at 25 you’re supposed to be doing this, at 65…that’s arbitrary. I think you should not cease pursuing whatever it is you’re interested in because of age. Your only limitation that you should have is mental or physical, other than that you should keep on pushing.”

Jones has already earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and now wants to go to law school.

“I want to study law. I have no intention of being an attorney; I simply want to go to law school for the knowledge, and I’m sure there will be students in the class who think I’m nuts, but so what?”

At 18, Jones left his hometown in Mississippi to join the Marine Corps. His education at LSU started during his deployment in Vietnam as a squad leader.

“I wanted to stay connected, so to speak. I didn’t want to run the risk of losing interest because I had begun studies at San Diego Community College when I went to Vietnam,” Jones said. “LSU’s correspondence course was offered to any student, regardless where they were or what their status was, so I just happened to take advantage of the program.”

After his deployment, Jones earned a degree in sociology from the University of Hawaii, later a master’s degree in social work from LSU in 1975.

The veteran was only nine credit hours short of his Ph. D. when he took a job at the Department of Corrections. After working 25 years for the DOC, Jones retired as the warden for the women’s prison.

Jones had to start his Ph. D. from scratch since he ran out of time required to complete it. He experienced another set back in his academic journey after having serious health issues, forcing him to drop out of the program.

Jones was ready and willing to begin working on his Ph. D. in human ecology a third time, but, fortunately, he was given an extension, allowing him to finish his dissertation.

“My dissertation was about racism and religion and specifically the perceptions of racism and the stress that black families experience as a result, and how religion serves as a coping strategy.”

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Jones not only enjoys keeping his mind actively fit but he also strives to maintain his physical health, thanks to his time in the military.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine. I still engage in physical activity. I work out Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, and those three days I do over a thousand push-ups, 300 jumping jacks and I run 3 miles each day, so 9 miles a week, I do that every week. That’s my routine and I feel guilty when it rains and I don’t get a chance to do it.”

Jones seems like a man who never stops learning. Right now, he’s preparing to take the Law School Admission Test, and is considering going to medical school.

Information provided by Louisiana State University

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