Dr. Philip Viviani is proof it’s never too late to continue your education. He earned his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Mercer in 2011 at 81 years old, and a decade later, he remains the oldest person to graduate with a Ph.D. from the University.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Dr. Viviani settled in Macon and took a job as a contracting officer at Robins Air Force Base in 1954. He always wanted to be a teacher, so he took night classes at Mercer for seven years until he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1963.
Dr. Viviani, who now lives in Savannah with wife Tammy, said with a laugh that he was “devoid of mathematics” skills, so passing the algebra course he needed to graduate was a big undertaking and accomplishment for him. He continued night school for another eight years to complete his Master of Education in 1971.
Mercer did not have an education specialist degree (Ed.S.) or Ph.D. in education at the time, so he earned his Ed.S. through Georgia College and State University in 1976. But, he still wanted that Ph.D. — and he wanted to get it from Mercer.
In 2006, Dr. Viviani picked up the newspaper one day and saw that Mercer had added a Ph.D. program in educational leadership. He applied and was accepted in 2007.
“In 2011, after four years and at the age of 81, I got what I was looking for back in 1971 … just 40 years later,” he said.
While Dr. Viviani never went into teaching full time because of family obligations and his other work, he still had quite a lot of experience under his belt by the time he started the Ph.D. program at Mercer.
After 30 years at Robins Air Force Base, he focused on running two of his own businesses, a defense contracting company and a swimming pool company. Amid that work, he took substitute teaching jobs at private and public schools throughout Middle Georgia, mainly instructing high school students.
He also was a professor for the University of Georgia Extension College Program, a history teacher at Mount de Sales Academy for a year, a GED instructor to inmates in Monroe County, and a tutor in the Glynn County Communities in Schools program. He continued to teach regularly until 2013.
As a Ph.D. student, Dr. Viviani was able to share his experiences and stories with Mercer professors and students who were much younger than him. He could really relate to what his peers were dealing with in the classroom.
“It was a great experience at Mercer, and I totally enjoyed it,” he said. “When you’re older and you’re in a classroom, it’s different because you’re bringing in an outside perspective that they’re not used to. … The most fun I had in the classroom was being the antithesis to the young students. I loved it.”
Dr. Viviani encouraged older folks to consider going back to school if they have some time on their hands.
“If you’re retired and you want to do something, go back to school, get a degree and then go teach. People like me who have business experience, worldly experience … when we go into a classroom, just look at the experience we could convey,” he said.