ALUMNUS SPOTLIGHT: John Presley

John PresleyJohn Presley graduated with a Master's degree in History from the University of Memphis in 2012. What makes this exceptional is that he began his graduate school program at the age of 70. For more than thirty years Presley worked diligently as a pharmacist for the United States Public Health Service. He spent his last fifteen years working for the Memphis Veterans Affairs Hospital, focusing on Oncology. While many people have dreams of taking it easy once they retire, Presley had other plans. He retired from the VA Hospital on a Monday and enrolled in his first graduate course the following Wednesday.

Presley earned his undergraduate degree in Pharmacology from UT Knoxville in 1959. He married the love of his life the same year. Although John Wesley is not a native Memphian, he has spent a considerable amount of time here. He moved to Memphis with his wife in 1961. When asked, "Why did you pursue science rather than history as your undergraduate major," he replied, "I loved science and I wanted to help people." Amazingly, he has visited thirty-four countries, extensively researching each country before he visited. He found that the more he knew about the countries he was visiting, the more fulfilling the trips were. As a young man, he had the privilege of living in Berlin, Germany during the Cold War and managed to tour East Berlin while he was there.

He shared some interesting details with us regarding his graduate studies at the University of Memphis. When asked why he did not audit courses, he shared that he was eager to take on the role of a working student including all of the responsibilities and benefits of obtaining a degree. He looked forward to the deadlines, the assignments and all of the aspects of the life of a student. He was immediately struck by the kindness he experienced at every level at the University of Memphis. Presley fondly remembered, "from the Registrar's Office to my advisor and instructors, everybody was so kind and helpful, especially Ken Krietner," who impressed him by staying late after class once to show Presley how to play a centuries old musical instrument. Presley emphasized that The University of Memphis Graduate School staff and faculty really take special interests in the students they teach and meet.

As a senior citizen, Presley was able to enroll in courses for only seventy dollars per class. He took full advantage of this opportunity, and viewed it as a true privilege. Presley insisted on enrolling in only one course at a time so that he could devote all of his energy and resources into that particular subject, stating " I really wanted to absorb everything about the subject and delve into them completely without being distracted."

He has used his history degree to thoroughly research his own genealogy, leading to some truly amazing discoveries. He found that he was related to Elvis Presley, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Aquinas and many popes and saints of old. Presley credits the Graduate School for instilling in him the tools necessary to strongly engage in historical research, and for giving him a solid computer literacy foundation. His history degree has given him the opportunity to guest lecture at many schools in the community as well as participate in the renovation of his church, St. Louis Catholic Church, as he was able to contribute important historical notes. Currently, Presley is planning on visiting the Island of Saint Martin, Spain, France and Portugal in the coming year. He continues his genealogy research and is now up to 42,000 records for his family tree.