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Aggie checks graduation off his bucket list

May 17, 2014
by Jason Kosovski

There are many titles that William "Bill" Webster has had throughout his career: state representative, president, director, chairman, and now - at age 81 - college graduate.

More than six decades after he first stepped foot on the Colorado State University campus as a freshman in 1951 – Webster walked across the stage at the College of Agricultural Sciences Spring 2014 Commencement ceremony and received a Bachelor of Science degree.

Webster has had a distinguished career in both politics and business, having served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1998-2001 and as Weld County Commissioner at Large from 1990-1998. In 2001, the Colorado Livestock Association honored him as Legislator of the Year. In 2002, the Colorado Conservation Association named him Outstanding Legislator of the Year. His business career includes time as a director of Safeway Stores and 12 years as chairman of the State of Colorado Agricultural Commission.Bill Webster receives his Bachelor of Science degree at the College of Agricultural Sciences commencement ceremony on May 17.

Value of a college degree

Despite all of these accomplishments, and many others, Webster wished he had finished his degree at what was then Colorado A&M. Webster recounted how his parents always impressed upon him the value of a college degree, most especially his father who was a physician.  For Webster, leaving the University without a degree was a “mistake,” but  one that he felt it was time to rectify. 

“I shortchanged myself by not getting a degree,” he said. 

After trying to restart his studies about 15 years ago, and finding that he was still too busy, Webster decided about a year and a half ago that the timing was right to finish his degree.

“My wife has two college degrees, and my children also have college degrees,” Webster said. “Since my wife Sylvia said I can’t have one of her degrees, I figured it was time to get my own.”

Unique degree completionWebster's unique years of experience in the feedlot industry helped contribute to his degree at CSU.

Working with Emeritus Professor of Animal Sciences David Ames, and with the Registrar’s Office, Webster developed a degree completion plan that involved taking some courses near his home in Greeley, participating in CSU courses, and adding some of his “life experiences” to his degree requirements. 

“The degree requirements have changed significantly during the past 60 years, so we utilized the courses he had completed in the 1950s, and he used his vast experiences in the cattle feeding industry to complete some requirements by examination. His remaining requirements were earned in a classroom setting,” said Ames.

Webster is quick to note that his degree was not just granted to him – he had to work for it.  He took courses in music appreciation as well as history. 

“The history professor even let me comment from time to time on events. These events weren’t history to me – I had lived them,” Webster said.  In one case, Webster provided a narrated oral history of his own parents and grandparents rather than write an essay.

Knowledge worth sharing

When it came time to take part in some of his Animal Sciences courses, Webster actually helped lead some of those courses based on his experience in the feedlot industry. 

“When I was a student in the 1950s, there weren’t courses on feedlot management,” he said.

Webster's wife, Sylvia, along with his children and grandchildren have supported him throughout his lifelong journey.

In fact, the feedlot industry across the Front Range came into its own after Webster left CSU in the 1950s. He later worked alongside industry pioneers W.D. Farr and Kenny Monfort. 

“While in the feedlot classes, I even identified a couple of students that I felt had the potential to manage their own feedlots someday,” Bill added.    

A lifelong journey

Webster’s graduation was attended by his children and grandchildren in addition to many faculty and staff members who have helped him with his degree. Some 15 members of his family were in the audience, including his wife of 60 years. 

“Bill’s degree truly demonstrates that learning is a lifelong process,” said Animal Sciences Department Head Kevin Pond. “I am proud that our department and CSU were able to play a part in helping Bill complete a degree that he began so long ago and to add to his many accomplishments.”