KU fall graduation
More than 1,300 students will earn degrees from Kansas University at the end of the fall 2013 semester. Fifty-two Kansas counties and 36 states are represented in the graduating students. KU only holds one formal commencement ceremony each year, so many of the students who will graduate this winter will return this May for the 142nd KU Commencement celebration, the university said. For a schedule of KU's fall graduation ceremonies, click here.
Warren Spikes was half a semester from earning his bachelor’s degree at Kansas University when he was drafted for World War II.
After the war, he never did get around to completing that degree — or so he thought.
So Spikes, who turned 90 this month and lives in Hugoton, was plenty surprised when he received a KU diploma for his birthday.
It turns out, he had the right credits all these years, just not in the right places. An unusual feat of the registrar’s office and Spikes’ relatives pulled them together.
Spikes tried to enlist in the Navy flight program in high school, but his father wouldn’t sign off until he graduated. Spikes tried again after that but wasn’t accepted because of hay fever.
Instead, Spikes went to junior college for a year and then to KU, where he studied petroleum geology and was close to graduating when the Army drafted him in spring of 1944.
“Of course I would’ve liked to finish that semester because I was about halfway through it,” Spikes said. “But of course, I didn’t mind going to the service because that was where I really thought I should have been for a while.”
Spikes immediately left KU for basic training. Next, the Army sent him and a handful of other soldiers to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where he spent two semesters racking up about 30 credits in civil engineering.
With the Army combat engineers Spikes shipped to the South Pacific and remained in Japan for a year after the war ended. Back in Kansas, his father had accumulated some land and was of the opinion that returning soldiers needed to be working, so Spikes started farming.
“I thought it was time to go to work,” Spikes said. “I guess I thought I’d had enough school for a while ... as the years went by, I thought less and less about going back.”
It wasn’t until this fall, while working on a biography to share at Spikes’ upcoming 90th birthday party, that Spikes’ son Kirk Spikes learned about the almost-finished KU degree. He came across the story in a paper Spikes’ granddaughter wrote about him when she was in high school.
“She was shocked that I didn’t have a degree,” Warren Spikes said, recalling the interview with his granddaughter more than 10 years ago.
Kirk Spikes had an idea. With a little work, maybe he could get those hours together and surprise his dad with a degree at his milestone birthday party.
Kirk Spikes called Rutgers, then the KU registrar’s office and School of Engineering, which pulled Warren Spikes’ records from the archives and started putting credits from the two schools together. Ultimately, KU determined Spikes was eligible for a degree based on the KU curriculum in 1945. KU mailed the diploma with a few days to spare before the party.
By that time, a number of people in the small town of Hugoton were in on the plan but managed to keep it a secret, Kirk Spikes said.
When he was handed the diploma — with royal blue matting and a cherry-wood frame — during his party, Spikes thought it was a joke.
When he realized it wasn’t, Spikes said he was honored and “certainly glad to have it.”
He plans to participate in the KU School of Engineering’s fall graduation ceremony on Saturday, where he’s hoping to blend in as much as possible with his now-white hair.
Situations like Spikes’ are very unusual but worth the effort, said Brian McDow of the KU registrar’s office.
“We believe that anyone who has earned a degree from the University of Kansas should receive it,” McDow said. “Conferring a degree to Mr. Spikes is another example of the important work done by the staff in the Office of the University Registrar and it is something we would do for any student who meets the academic requirements of their program.”