Robert Schiller knows something about second chances.
In the early 1970s, he was an older student at Rutgers. He was in his 30s, juggling studies, a full-time job and a young family. A month before his graduation from University College, Schiller moved to Indiana to begin a new job. He had arranged to finish his exams and complete the final requirements and was planning to fly back to New Jersey for the graduation ceremony.
Those plans quickly unraveled when he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Instead of attending a ceremony, he received his undergraduate degree in business management weeks later when it arrived unceremoniously in the mail.
Four decades later, Schiller, who eventually regained his mobility and his memory loss and went back to work, is planning to make up for missing his original commencement in 1973 by participating in the Rutgers University graduation ceremony on May 19. He will represent Rutgers Business School.
“It’s certainly a day I’m looking forward to,” Schiller said. “Rutgers changed my life and gave me the opportunity to have the life I did.”
Marty Markowitz, senior associate dean of Rutgers Business School’s undergraduate program in New Brunswick, made the decision to give Schiller the chance to participate in a commencement ceremony.
“His wife thought this was an emptiness, that he never got to celebrate his graduation,” Markowitz said. “Rutgers Business School wanted to give him the chance to have completion.” During the ceremony, Markowitz plans to call Schiller’s name first and to acknowledge his long wait to participate in the procession to the podium.
At the time he was originally scheduled to graduate, Schiller was beginning the process of rehabilitating at his in-law’s home in Florida. He and his wife, Lucille – their children were 7 years old and 5 months old at the time – carried on “with lots of prayers, determination and the support of wonderful friends,” Schiller said.
“I had to relearn everything, how to use my hands, how to speak, how to climb stairs,” Schiller said. “I kept doing things until I could do them naturally.”
Schiller, who worked in quality assurance in the automotive and aeronautical industries his entire career, found a new job in Milwaukee. In 1981, he switched jobs again, relocating his family to Chicago, where he and his wife still live for half of the year. (They spend the other six months as “snowbirds” in the Florida community of Lantana.)
Schiller’s health remained an issue during his career. He suffered four additional strokes, each less severe than the first one.
After a stint working as a consultant, Schiller retired in 2003. He plays tennis and rides bike – the exercise started as a way of countering the effects of his strokes. He also spends time volunteering. In Florida, he cooks every Tuesday for the homeless. In Illinois, he volunteers at a food pantry.
“It’s a pay back,” Schiller said. “Lou and I feel like we’ve had very good lives and now it’s time to give back to society.”
Lucille Schiller said she contacted Rutgers last year after reading a story in the university’s alumni magazine about a graduate who “walked” belatedly. When she showed the story to Schiller, he told her, “Boy, that’s something I really missed.”
His wife kept her communications with Rutgers a secret because she didn’t want to disappoint Schiller if it wasn’t possible for him to participate in a ceremony belatedly. Since management programs are now offered by Rutgers Business School, university and alumni officials decided Schiller would “graduate’’ with RBS students.
“I thought it would be a nice gesture,” Markowitz said.