90-year old finally receiving WC chemistry degree he started in 1949

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NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. (WC) – Of the nearly 300 students who make up Westminster College’s Class of 2019, one hasn’t set foot in a classroom in decades.

Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music and Master of Education degrees will be conferred during Westminster’s 165th annual commencement ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 11, on the Weisel Senior Terrace outside of Old Main.

Among those earning degrees will be 90-year-old Dr. Paul J. Suorsa. The retired Slippery Rock veterinarian will return to campus to claim his bachelor’s degree, an achievement 70 years in the making.

The nonagenarian’s long path to a Westminster degree began in 1949 when the New Castle native enrolled as a chemistry major. In 1952 Suorsa was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and left New Wilmington for Philadelphia before he was able to complete the German credit hours that were required for him to complete his Westminster degree. He planned to take the language courses, which were common for science and medicine students at the time, at Penn and transfer the credits to Westminster to secure his bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, not all the Penn credits transferred, leaving Suorsa just two credit hours short. Despite that, he earned his Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris (VMD) degree from Penn in 1956 and went on to have a successful veterinary career in Slippery Rock, retiring in 2003.

In September 2018, Suorsa’s son Dr. Daniel Suorsa—in search of a 90th birthday gift for his father—reached out to Westminster in hopes of securing his father’s unrealized dream of earning a Westminster degree.

Dr. Jeffrey Coker, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Westminster, approved the request after conferring with chemistry and modern language faculty members.

“We all agreed that the degree should be conferred because German is no longer a modern requirement of a chemistry degree and Paul also has an extensive background in Finnish, thereby fulfilling the spirit of our current language requirement,” said Coker.

“I am surprised and delighted I will be obtaining my degree from Westminster College,” said Suorsa. “Education has always been important to me and I am continuing to learn new things even now entering my 90s. I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing my education is at last complete.”

Suorsa, who currently resides in Cranberry Township with his wife Gertrude, will be accompanied to commencement by his family, including his daughter, Katherine Suorsa Super, who earned her degree in biology from Westminster in 1981.

“I think it is wonderful that Dr. Suorsa will officially receive his degree,” said Coker. “The Suorsas are a longstanding Titan family and we welcome them to our commencement with open arms. It is a testament to the deep meaning of a Westminster College diploma.”

The commencement ceremony will also include the conferring of an honorary degree doctor of letters honoris causa on two-time Emmy Award-winning television producer Timothy Kaiser, a 1985 alumnus.

Kaiser’s work on the long-running popular NBC sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “Will & Grace” earned him two Emmys, as well as 10 Emmy nominations. Kaiser also executive produced “2 Broke Girls” and the current reboot of “Will & Grace.”  Kaiser currently resides in Pittsburgh.

baccalaureate service will be held at 10 a.m. in the Will W. Orr Auditorium with the Rev. Dr. Randy Bush, senior pastor of East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, providing the message, “Timeless Classics in a Changing World.”

In case of rain, the commencement ceremony will be held in the Will W. Orr Auditorium. For more information, contact Betsy Hildebrand at 724-946-7226 or hildebef@westminster.edu.

PHOTO: Dr. Paul Suorsa, right, with son Dr. Daniel Suorsa together at work at the Slippery Rock Veterinary Hospital. Suorsa, 90, will receive his bachelor’s degree from Westminster on Saturday, May 11. (Photo: Allied News) 

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