Campus: CSU, Fullerton -- May 24, 2001

Cal State Fullerton to Salute Class of 2001's Oldest Member - He's 76

The year Gene Huffman entered Cal State Fullerton as a junior, Jimmy Carter beat incumbent Gerald Ford for the presidency; the Apple II personal computer was introduced; and Stevie Wonder picked up the Grammy Award for best album with "Songs in the Key of Life."

Twenty-five years later in 2001, when President Ford's tenure seems a distant memory, Huffman - the oldest member of CSUF's Class of 2001 - is going to graduate with a double major in physics and English. He plans to march in not one, but two campus graduation ceremonies. Commencement weekend is celebrated May 25 and 26 for students in the seven colleges at CSUF. Huffman will be recognized Friday for his physics major and Saturday for his English major.

The 76-year-old is set to receive the Continuing Learning Experience (CLE) Award, which embodies an appreciation of lifelong education and is given by the 900-member campus CLE organization, at the university's annual Honors Convocation Thursday, May 24.

"Over the past 25 years, I've earned 242 units, and every teacher I've ever had has been a very good teacher," says Huffman.

Earning a university degree is a considerable accomplishment for the Los Angeles native, who struggled with his family through the Great Depression in Fresno, learning that "hard work and thrift are necessary to survive." His high school education was interrupted during World War II by his draft notice. After more than two years in the Navy, he married Florence, a Fresno beautician, and joined the Army, which trained him in radio and microwave electronics during a four-year stint.

After his discharge in 1952, Huffman took a job in electronics at Hewlett Packard Co. Until he retired in 1990, he helped conduct laser experiments for North American Aviation, which became Rockwell International, and then for Northrop Corp.

As a non-degreed engineer, he learned early in his career, he needed further education if he wanted to advance in position and salary beyond certain levels. "So I went to school," he says, "and those classes helped me advance on the job."

Huffman took four years to earn an associate of arts degree from Los Angeles Harbor College and then enrolled at Cal State Fullerton as a physics major with a keen interest in laser spectroscopy and electron optics.

By the fall of 1993, he had completed course work for the physics degree, but - because the university had yet to establish its master's program in physics - he decided to postpone his graduation until he completed requirements for a second major in English.

"I chose English because I like to read, and I enjoy writing stories, memoirs and technical papers," he says. "Any scientific discipline is about facts, facts, facts. In English classes, I got to study the fiction and poetry written by the important English authors of the past, all the way back to Shakespeare and forward to the present day."

Huffman will rise early Friday and Saturday, in order to make the trek from his home in Rancho Cucamonga to Fullerton for the days' 8 a.m. ceremonies. Although his wife, Florence, passed away a few years ago, he expects his two grown children and a granddaughter to attend Saturday's ceremony.

Not one to rest on his diplomas and laurels, Huffman has been accepted into the university's graduate program in physics. Once he has earned his master's degree, he still won't pack away his textbooks. "If I live long enough," he says, "I would then like to enroll in the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks to shoot for a degree in atmospheric science."

He also wants to fuse the knowledge he gained earning his bachelor's degree to write a publishable novel of…what else?…science fiction.

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