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Garfield man shut his business amid pandemic. Now at age 66, he's graduating from college

During the pandemic Philip Sanzari was forced to permanently shut down his 23-year cleaning business. But as one chapter closed for the 66-year-old, another began.

On Friday, Sanzari will graduate from Berkeley College with an associate's degree in applied science, a milestone he didn't imagine reaching at his age.

"When I started, I was nervous because I hadn't been in school since 1974," said Sanzari, a Garfield resident of 37 years. "I didn't feel as though I was intelligent enough to go back to school, honestly. But in all truthfulness, I kind of misjudged myself."

With encouragement from his friends and family, Sanzari enrolled at Berkeley College to receive his degree in applied science in health services administration – medical Insurance, billing, and coding. Two years later, he will cross the graduation stage at Prudential Center in Newark along with 1,416 Berkeley graduates.

"You're never too old to learn, and I did it," Sanzari said.

The former entrepreneur said he wasn't the best at school and feared he would have a hard time completing the work.

But that turned out not to be the case. Sanzari completed his associate's degree online, while dealing with heart issues and surgeries. After graduation, he plans to move to Biloxi, Mississippi, to pursue a career in the health care industry, along with his partner of 43 years, Sam Chaney.

Chaney, 69, also returned to school to get his nursing degree once they closed down the business that had given the two a comfortable life. They both went back to school because they "feel young" and didn't want to financially depend on anyone, Sanzari said.

"We have a certain lifestyle that we've grown accustomed to. We like to do things, we like to go visit friends, buy what we want to buy, go out to dinner," Sanzari said. "You can't just sit by and live on Social Security."

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Not only did he finish his degree with honors, but Sanzari also found inspiration from his classmates who were pursuing an education while working and raising families. He, too, faced challenges, particularly in his writing class, because he never imagined he would write stories.

Despite the obstacles, Sanzari was regularly named to the Berkeley College President’s List. He was also inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society, which recognizes the academic achievements of students pursuing two-year degrees.

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Kelly Berge, a professor in the Allied Health Department, School of Health Studies, met Sanzari in his second semester at Berkeley College.

“He was an amazing, hardworking student from Day One and took advantage of all of the resources that were offered by the college,” she said.

As Sanzari and Chaney pack up their belongings and move to the South, they are excited to start a new journey closer to friends, although they will leave family behind in New Jersey.

Looking back at his educational journey, Sanzari wishes he would have had the confidence to do it sooner. His advice to others looking to go back to school is straightforward: Just do it.

“I have achieved something I never had the confidence to do,” Sanzari said. “If you have the opportunity to see something through until the end, do it, you won’t regret it. I don’t.”

Jessie Gomez is a local reporter for The Record and NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: jgomez@gannettnj.com

Twitter: @jessiereport

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Garfield NJ business owner graduates from Berkeley College at 66