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Ave Maria Law Graduates Include Two Remarkable for Their Ages

2grads-225John Arceri has been retired almost as long as his fellow Ave Maria Law School graduate Mellina Fortunato has been alive. Now, 50 years apart in age, they're both embarking at the same time on legal careers, having made it through three grueling years of law school in Naples.

There have been older law school graduates in the U.S. than Mr. Arceri, who turns 71 this fall – one California woman finished law school at age 80 a few years ago – although staffers at the Florida Bar Association could not recall one in Florida. And there have been younger graduates than Miss Fortunato in the State of Florida, but few if any law school commencement exercises have had a graduate as old as Mr. Arceri and as young as the 20-year-old Miss Fortunato.

"I'll tell you honestly," Mr. Arceri said before graduating before his four children and three of his nine grandchildren Saturday, "it's a much tougher journey than I thought it would be. Had I known it was so challenging, I'm not sure I would have done it. But that said, I loved the journey."

Miss Fortunato, who will be 21 in July, said she was expecting it to be difficult and "it was pretty much on par with what I expected."

Both said that their ages relative to the rest of their classmates was never a problem, although Mr. Arceri said he felt the difference in age between him and the other students more acutely.

"Early on, I think some of my classmates were thinking, 'Here's some old guy fulfilling his fantasy,' but they soon began to regard me as a serious student." Not that they didn't notice a difference, however. "I had a hard time getting kids to call me John," he said.

"I did feel extra pressure, though, that I was representing 50 million old people."

arceri1-350Mr. Arceri, who graduated in the top quartile of his class, said that even though younger students had some advantages, he had an edge in his work ethic – "I took nothing for granted," he said – and in a relative lack of distractions from demands of a young family or social demands. Left, Mr. Arceri with his nine grandchildren.

The journey is not over yet, though. Mr. Arceri said that he'll start studying Monday to take the Florida bar examination in July. A former executive with Con Edison, which supplies electrical power to New York City, he's hoping to practice in part in cases involving liability for damage or personal injury from accidents involving power companies. He also intends to offer pro-bono services to people who can't afford a lawyer, and to work on pro-life legislation.

Miss Fortunato is taking a longer break, planning to sit for the bar exam in February with hopes of joining the U.S. foreign service.

As she awaits her 21st birthday, Mr. Arceri said he is graduating law school almost on the same day that he is required by law – at age 70 and one-half – to begin taking distributions from his retirement account.

"I don't know too many people in the U.S., if anyone, who can say that," he said.

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The Ave Herald first carried a story on Mr. Arceri and Miss Fortunato beginning law school in the fall of 2010. Click here for that story.

The News-Press has a general story on the graduation, with pictures, here.

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