54 years after first enrolling at Doane, Songster earns his bachelor's degree

Alan Songster ’19L

Over 30 years ago, shortly after Doane’s Lincoln campus for nontraditional students first opened, the college used this phrase in marketing materials as a tagline for the new Lincoln campus:

 

Doane College. It’s never too late to learn.

 

On Saturday, the oldest graduate to ever receive a diploma from Doane’s Lincoln campus was honored, someone who embraces that tagline fully.

 

Alan Songster ’19L graduated from Doane University on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts studies. At 71 years old, Songster is believed to be the second oldest graduate Doane has ever had across all programs and campuses.

 

“It is a big moment in my life, to say the least,” Songster says.

 

Songster first enrolled at Doane College in 1965, where he spent two-and-a-half years as a undergraduate student on the Crete campus. As he recalls, at this time, Doane had a number of students from the eastern portion of the country. In his first year at Doane, there were 542 students on campus.

 

Songster lived in Smith Hall his freshman year, which was called “Men’s Hall” at the time. He joined a fraternity, Sigma Phi Theta, and has many fond memories with his fraternity brothers. Among them is a tradition where someone from the fraternity would be thrown into Doane Lake after being “pinned,” a tradition amongst Greek houses in which a fraternity member gives his pin to a woman in a sorority, signifying he values their relationship more than his house (of course, he did not share this information himself).

 

Raised in Exeter, Nebraska, on a farm, Songster has always had a very strong work ethic and has always been very patriotic. In May of 1968, he proved that by enlisting in the U.S. Army.

 

Originally trained to be an aircraft engine repairman, Songster spent the majority of his service in Fort Riley, Kansas. He was set to serve in the Vietnam War, but was involved in a car accident that gave him injuries that prevented him from being able to serve in Vietnam. He was then primarily a clerk, working on aircraft records at Fort Riley, and was discharged in October of 1970.

 

Songster then returned to Doane in January of 1971, but after completing two classes, felt his father needed his assistance on the farm. He elected to put a halt on taking classes and spend his time working at home.

 

One thing led to another for Songster. Each year, he continued to farm a little more, and life kept getting busier. He married his wife, Noreen, in 1972 and shortly after, they had their first of three kids.

 

Songster has a number of Doane connections in his family, including his son, Craig, who graduated from Doane in 1997. His sister, Ann Cahill, graduated from Doane in 1972 and currently serves on the Board of Trustees.

 

Songster says that he always felt a void not finishing school with his classmates in what would’ve been 1969, had he not served in the Army.

 

“I always wanted to say that I had a degree,” he said.

 

So in November of 2016, he made the first big step to make that happen.

 

At 68 years old, Songster called Doane University to inquire about enrolling in a bachelor’s program on the Lincoln campus to complete his degree.

 

Alan was a business and economics major in the 60s and had completed 82 credits during his time at Doane. This meant he needed 41 credits to complete his degree, and after visiting with Angie Klasek, Executive Campus Director of Doane’s Lincoln campus, he elected to major in liberal arts studies. This would put him on a quicker path to earning a degree, and provided him with coursework that would be the most beneficial for him going forward.

 

In January 2017, Songster was back in a classroom as a student for the first time in 46 years.

 

“My first challenge was dealing with the intimidation factor,” Songster said during his speech at Doane’s baccalaureate service. “Luckily, I sat next to a younger student who assisted me in turning on the computer in my first class. I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to complete the first assignment, but the supportive professors convinced me I was capable of completing the task.”

 

For the last two-and-a-half years, Songster has been a student on the Lincoln campus, taking classes nearly every term, with the exception of a few to focus on planting and harvesting.

 

Chris Brady, Coordinator of Operations and Academic Advisor on Doane’s Omaha campus, first connected with Songster when he was on the enrollment staff in Lincoln. Brady also taught Songster in two classes.

 

“Everyone was encouraged and energized by his presence,” Brady says. “Whatever obstacles students were facing, it wasn’t comparable to what Alan had. He was a role model in class and a lot of students were able to feed off that.”

 

Tere Francis, Director of the Academic Support Center, also had Songster as a student in two classes and says they connected right away.

 

“Alan is probably the best experience I’ve had in all of my years in teaching,” she said. “I told his family this and I mean it with all my heart. Here’s a man who really wanted to finish his education.”

 

Despite having to overcome a number of hurdles in his academic journey, many of which were technology-related, Songster pushed through, finishing his “second stint” at Doane with a 4.0 GPA.

 

On Saturday, Songster received his diploma at Commencement, with a number of family members on hand to celebrate.

 

“It’s my hope that I’m setting an example for my grandchildren that education should be a priority and that they can do anything if they are committed and focused,” he said.

 

Doane College. It’s never too late to learn.

 

It may be a tagline over 30 years old, but it applies perfectly to Songster today. Even at 71 years old, he continues to farm and hasn’t ruled out going back to school to complete a master’s degree.

 

Whatever he chooses to do, Songster will forever be remembered at Doane for his dedication and persistence to earn his bachelor’s degree.

 

As Francis eloquently puts it, “If there was a ‘Best of Doane’ collection of photos, Alan would be one of them."