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Degrees of Separation

Degrees of Separation
By France Griggs Sloat

For years, it just didn’t matter that Michael Kern didn’t finish college.

He came of age in an era when one was judged on intelligence and wit rather than academic credentials. He was so busy overcoming challenges and climbing the corporate ladder he didn’t really notice he was one class short.

Until he found himself in the executive suite of a major investment firm. Then, one day, the company issued an edict that everyone—even the top brass—had to update their resumés. Kern was busted.

It all began in 1964 when Kern signed up to be a Jesuit right out of high school. After two years of study, he took his vows and volunteered for assignment to Peru, where he planned to be a lifelong missionary. But he soon realized he was too conservative for the Jesuits and withdrew from the order. After two years serving in the Army, he returned to Xavier. When his wife, Nancy, became pregnant, he switched to night classes and began selling life insurance during the day to pay for diapers. As he got busier with job promotions and children, Kern let his one last class—and the degree—slide. “I was working on my own and representing these companies, and all they wanted was for me to have a license,” he says.

When asked to update his education background last year, he decided it was time to contact Xavier. He wrote to the registrar’s office, explaining his situation. Xavier saw that his missing class was a basic math course, and decided to give the senior vice president at UBS his missing credit—and his degree.

 

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