Graduating Fresno State senior Tom Shudic joined 27 other students in receiving his viticulture and enology degree this past week — the same week he collected his first social security check.

The 70-year-old’s path to graduation started at Los Angeles Valley College in the 1960s. He was later hired by Hughes Aircraft Company in 1972 and worked as an aerospace and electro-optical technician in research and development laboratories for 41 years.

With a freed-up schedule after retiring from Raytheon in 2013, and at the urging of his girlfriend, Dr. Elaine Moore, he eventually met with former Fresno State viticulture and enology department chair Dr. Jim Kennedy. Shudic quickly became interested and signed up for the program that is considered one of the nation’s finest in the field for in its hands-on training in the winemaking process.

“Coming here has been a wonderful educational experience, but the best part is all the interesting people I’ve met — both teachers and students,” Shudic said. “I have also learned, like a lot of students, that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. When I was in college before, I was aimless and bored, but I’ve been on a mission to get my degree this time around.”

He’d already fostered a love of home winemaking that dated back to the early 1980s when he started buying fruit and making Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Malbec, Pinot Grigio and Riesling wines.

Fresno State was 200 miles from his home in Burbank, but it still seemed a good fit, especially after Shudic learned about the University’s academic fee-waiver program for students over the age of 60 who have never received a college degree.

Since fall 2016, he commuted each Monday from Burbank. This semester it meant leaving at 4:15 a.m. for his 9 a.m. cellar operations class, and each week he returned home after his final class on Thursday night or Friday.

Some of his most enjoyable enology classes were taught by Kennedy, Clark Smith and Larry Brooks, he said. His course load also included classes in cellar operations, fermentation, business, chemistry, equipment, evaluation, microbiology and winery management.

With his hands-on experience from classes and hours logged making wine at the nation’s first commercially-bonded university winery, Shudic now looks to potentially develop commercial products. He already holds wholesale and retail wine licenses after working to start a small, commercial operation years ago.

“Fresno State is a great place to get your feet wet and your hands purple, by making wine,” Shudic said. “I’m glad I can now return to my normal life and not spend all the time driving every week, but I will miss all the friends I’ve made here.”

When not studying or making wine these days, he also enjoys square dancing or playing bridge with his girlfriend whom he met in 2009 at a Pasadena bridge tournament.

The two have played bridge together ever since, and they have traveled to events in Seattle, Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco and Phoenix among others.

“Whether it’s wine or most other things, it’s never too late to go back and learn, and it also helps keep anybody young,” Shudic said. “That said, I will admit I was a better bicycle rider when I was a paperboy in the 1950s, and I have the scars from campus to prove it.”