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No Fear: After career-long hiatus from college, Stephen Doiron earns BA in English

Graduate age 72 challenged himself and professors without apprehension, encourages others to do the same

Mr. Doiron

Like many students, Stephen Doiron rides his bicycle to his classes on campus.

When he removes his bicycle helmet, however, his gray hair underscores the fact that he’s not the typical undergraduate student.

At age 72, Doiron is the oldest student in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences being awarded an undergraduate degree at the Commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 9, 2014. He’s earned his BA in English with a concentration in literature and a minor in film studies.

Graduation is just the latest milestone in a life filled with diverted plans and unexpected experiences.

Born and raised in the San Francisco area, Doiron completed high school and began his college career at San Francisco City College in 1959.

“In high school, I was very involved in drama and music,” he said. “However, I went to college during an era where you didn’t go to school and just fool around with music and theatre.”

He entered college as a business major, but he spent most of his time hanging out in the theatre.  After a year, his father decided he’d had enough of Stephen’s “dawdling.” He drove to campus, told his son to get in the car, and took him to the U.S. military recruiters’ office.

By the end of the day, Doiron was enlisted in the United States Air Force.

The Air Force, however, didn’t give him nuts and bolts work to do as his father might have expected. He was tested for a good job match and assigned to be a staff member of the U.S. Armed Forces newspaper, Stars and Stripes.  

For three years, Doiron traveled around the Pacific as a news gatherer. After his military commitment was over, he continued to work as a newspaper writer in and around northern California.

“Nobody in those days asked you if you had a degree in journalism,” said Doiron. “So I continued in that field. I was a newspaper reporter at the beginning of the Silicon Valley technology boom, and began covering some of the new companies emerging in that area – including a small company called Hewlett-Packard. I was just fascinated with what they were doing and began writing stories about them.”

His strong writing ability paired with an interest in the technology sector allowed him to transition over to becoming a technical writer for a number of companies, including IBM as it developed the personal computer. He also owned one of the first Apple computers as part of a beta development team.

For decades, he wrote manuals and technical books for various technology companies. However, he always wanted to be more creative with his writing. In his free time, he attended writing workshops and was an avid reader of literary fiction.

“I’d had a very successful career,” said Doiron. “I had plenty of money saved, so in 1998 I moved to Eureka, CA so that I could write a novel. I finished it and sent it to 3-4 publishing houses. Each of them sent me some notes which I continue to incorporate in the book.”

He enjoyed that experience so much, that in late 2000, he moved to New Orleans to write his second novel. Simultaneously, he worked as a freelance writer for a national publishing house.  He really loved New Orleans and thought that he would live out the rest of the days in the city.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and the city’s levee system failed, submerging the city under water.  His computer and the writing stored on it were lost in the floods.

“When I was evacuating New Orleans, I really thought that we would be back in the city in a matter of days,”Doiron said. “I packed a gym bag and went to Houston to stay with some friends.”

Nine years later, he is still in Houston.

Forced to start a new life in a new city, Doiron took the fresh start as an opportunity to pursue his passions. He worked as a commercial writer for a Houston studio that specialized in producing Infomercials and enrolled in the Houston Community College Filmmakers Academy.

As a film student, one of his class projects was to write, direct and produce a documentary on the Bayou City Art Festival.

 “However, after I finished any film project,” he said, “I quickly realized how much I missed writing.”

That longing led him to take classes at Houston Community College with the intention of transferring to UH. After a couple of years, he was able to enroll in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences as English major.

 “I’ve been walking on air since arriving on campus in January of 2012,” said Doiron.

Doiron admits he isn’t in college because he is striving to begin a new career or get ahead in the workplace. He’s been there and, certainly, done that.

He went back to college to increase his knowledge of literature so that he can become a better writer. And his s hard work and dedication earned him an invitation to join UH’s Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society.

"Stephen is a true Renaissance man, and I feel honored to teach someone so deeply invested in the humanities,” said Dr. Michael Snediker, associate professor of English. “Being Stephen’s professor is a pleasure, in part because his charisma and incomparable work ethic inspire me to teach to the fullest of my own abilities.

Doiron also believes his advanced age offers him some advantages when it comes to his college education. Not only has he broadened his knowledge, but he also attacked his studies without fear or apprehension.

“I’ve been learning how to connect all of the different concepts I am familiar with,” he said. “I’m not a young person, so I have no fear of opening my mouth and saying something or asking professors to explain concepts better – and then asking them to explain them again.”

After  graduation, Doiron will head back into his writer’s room and continue writing his narrative.

- By Monica Byars