83-Year-Old Veteran to Receive Ph.D. from LSU
BATON ROUGE – Johnnie Jones’ age isn’t stopping him from learning. In fact, the 83-year-old veteran will receive his Ph.D. from LSU on Friday, Dec. 14.
“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.
Jones used that focus to pursue a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a Ph.D., and he has hopes of going to law school next.
“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?”
Jones was born in Mississippi and at the age of 18, joined the Marine Corps. His LSU education started while he was deployed to 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 he left Vietnam, Jones received a degree in sociology from the University of Hawaii.
“From Hawaii I moved back to California, where I submitted a number of applications for graduate school, and LSU came through first, plus I had already been taking a course from LSU, so I settled on LSU.”
Jones received a Master’s of Social Work from LSU in 1975 and was about nine hours short of his Ph.D. when he received a job offer from the Department of Corrections. He would retire 25 years later as the warden for the women’s prison.
“Of course, having a family and young children, I took the job and that’s how that turned out,” Jones said. “And as a consequence, I ran out the required seven year time period that they give you to complete the Ph.D. So I had to start all over again from scratch.”
Jones started over, but another set-back prevented him from receiving a Ph.D.
"I had a serious health problem and again, I had completed all of the requirements for the Ph.D. in human ecology, but I had to drop out because of health reasons.”
Just when he was ready to start working toward the degree for the third time, Jones said a professor helped him get an extension, allowing him to complete his dissertation and not have to start over again.
“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.”
Jones said the state provides free tuition for students over 65 years old and said LSU’s faculty have both supported and challenged him. He added, the other students have enjoyed having him in class.
“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.”
While he gets ready to take the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, he is continuing to focus on his mind and his body.
“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.”
But he won’t stop learning and already has plans for what’s to come after law school.
“I suppose if a medical school would accept me I would attend,” said Jones. “I’m going to be a student as long as I have the mental and physical capability. When I expire, if you will, I’m sure I will be a student.”
Media Note: Jones will receive his diploma during the LSU College of Agriculture ceremony on Friday, Dec. 14 at 12:30 p.m. inside the Maddox Fieldhouse.