ORANGEBURG, SC (WIS) - For each and every South Carolina State University student who received a diploma Friday night, it's a special achievement they'll proudly have forever.
But, it's an extra special achievement for Joe Thomas, Sr.
The 55-year-old has an amazing story to tell.
"I was nervous about going to college because I was worried about failing because of my hearing disability and my speech. Back then kids used to laugh at me," the 55-year-old said in an interview with WIS last fall.
Several decades ago, those setbacks hurt his confidence and kept Thomas from enrolling. Then, a few years ago when his oldest son was a junior at South Carolina State, playing football, Thomas thought it was finally time to pursue that long-lost dream – going to college and playing college football.
"He came in the office one day and said, 'Coach, I want to play.' It didn't really connect that he was talking about himself," Head Coach Buddy Pough said.
Pough made it happen, and Thomas' bucket list achievement culminated last fall with a 3-yard gain in a specially-designed play against Savannah State.
"That was my favorite moment. It was a dream that I always wanted to achieve, so thank God I achieved that," Thomas said.
Now, after his walk across the graduation stage, another dream's realized, but it wasn't easy.
"Especially being out 36 years. I really had to get back into it. Took about a year to feel comfortable. After that, I felt pretty good," he said.
Things are looking up for the new 55-year-old grad. But if he had to do it all over again, he'd do it differently.
"I'd tell anybody to follow their dreams while they're young right out of high school. Do what you need to do in life," he said.
WIS asked Thomas what's next. He said he's hoping to coach football.
During his time with the Bulldogs, Thomas became to oldest person to ever play Division 1 football.