Centenarian Finally Receives Diploma

Above, Williams surrounded (from left) by his son-in-law, David Larsen, BS 72 (Elect. Engineering and Comp. Science); daughter, Barbara Larsen, BA 74 (Psychology); and daughter-in-law, Sue Williams, BA 66 (Rhetoric).

By Elaine Larsen, BA 84 (Mass Communications)

It may have taken Hugh D. Williams more than 70 years to earn a UC Berkeley

degree. But at age 101, he finally did it.

Williams received the diploma Sept. 22, surrounded by his family at the senior complex where he lives in Cupertino, Ca.

“I’m very appreciative of receiving a diploma at this stage of my life,” Williams said. “I’m honored the Haas School of Business helped make this happen.”

A Riverside, Ca., native, Williams tinkered with machinery and electronics in high school. He was attending UC Berkeley when World War II started. Due to a physical issue, he couldn’t serve in the military so he took a job in a machine shop to help the war effort. When the war ended, he married a fellow UC Berkeley student, the late Ardell Rademacher. They soon had a child to support, so it wasn’t practical to complete his degree. He also realized he enjoyed working with his hands, so he continued to work as a machinist.

Although a UC Berkeley advisor told him that if he petitioned to graduate, the university would probably grant it, life’s circumstances prevented him from pursuing the degree. Williams and his wife built a home overlooking the San Francisco Bay and raised their two children, Douglas Williams, who became an electrical engineer, and Barbara Larsen, a psychology major and special education teacher who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1974.

Some months ago, reminiscing about things he might have done differently, Williams mentioned to his daughter that he regretted not pursuing that degree. So Larsen sent a letter to Barbara Felkins, assistant director of academic affairs for the undergraduate program, who agreed to help. (Felkins and Larsen knew each other as Berkeley High School students in the late 1960’s, participating in marching band together.)

Felkins found the microfiche of Williams’s transcript and added it to the current campus database. Using the requirements published for the class of 1941–1942, she determined that Williams had completed his degree requirements and notified the family.

History was made for the centenarian.

Williams credits his UC Berkeley business courses with helping him as a shop steward. 

“Business courses helped me avert strikes and facilitate better communication between employees and upper management,” he said.

Many other family members followed in his footsteps in attending UC Berkeley, including his oldest grandchild, Kate Williams Coppola, who graduated in 2002.

Williams is the patriarch of all family gatherings, and has many intellectual pursuits. And now, joining other family members, he has a UC Berkeley degree to hang on the wall, too.