Warren man, 70, becomes college graduate

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published May 7, 2021

 Warren resident Bennie Zizio, 70, recently earned a bachelor of arts degree with a major in history from Eastern Michigan University.

Warren resident Bennie Zizio, 70, recently earned a bachelor of arts degree with a major in history from Eastern Michigan University.

Photo provided by Bennie Zizio


WARREN/YPSILANTI — In 1974, while in speech class at Eastern Michigan University, Bennie Zizio left class to use the restroom.

The Detroit native didn’t return until 30 years later.

Back in ’74, he was close to graduating from the university, but because of his fear of public speaking and watching the student before him break down in class, Zizio abruptly quit school.

“It’s incredible to let a fear like that hold you back,” he said.

Since he had completed other work in the class, Zizio believed he would get a “C” grade, pass and graduate. But things didn’t go as planned, because the professor gave Zizio an “incomplete” rather than a grade for the two-credit course. Therefore, Zizio didn’t receive his degree and instead traveled Europe for eight months.

Thirty years later in the fall of 2004, Zizio, now of Warren, returned to Eastern. He attended class on campus sporadically over the years, earning enough credits to graduate with a bachelor of arts degree with a major in history in 2021. Zizio finished college just before his 70th birthday, which was April 30.

“I felt good about it,” he said. “I wanted to get this done. I knew I had all the credits I needed. It was tough but I just kept at it.”

Back to school
The Catholic Central High School graduate first enrolled in Eastern in the fall of 1969. He lived on campus in a dorm and worked as a mutuel clerk at the Northville Downs Race Track. He also worked in pest control.

Zizio always wanted to be a baseball coach and history teacher, yet he didn’t take his studies seriously as a young adult.

“I didn’t do as well as I should have,” he said. “I regret that. I wish I would have put more effort in when I was younger.”

After leaving school, Zizio thought about going back to college, “But I never did. As I grew older I was self-conscious.”

One day he realized, “You’re only cheating yourself” and went back to school 30 years after he left. He thought he only needed two credits to graduate. However, when he returned the course requirements had changed and more than two credits were needed to graduate.

“It’s a big difference,” said Zizio, who loves English, history and reading.

As a mature student, being on campus became second nature to Zizio, who drove from Warren to Ypsilanti for class. He got along well with his classmates.

“They were very nice to me,” he said. “It was a good experience.”

And he did just fine in his fundamentals of speech class.

“Public speaking … being prepared is the whole thing,” he said.

One time he addressed the class about the death penalty in Illinois and how 12 people on death row were exonerated. On another assignment, students had to select a person — celebrity, scientist, historical figure, politician — who should stay aboard a boat running out of provisions so they had to exit. Zizio debated why Bob Dylan should be the last person aboard and he won. Another class where the returning college student excelled was in the sub-Saharan African history class 1400-1700.

To show their support, his nephew Greg Mastin and wife, Angie Mastin, bought their uncle an Eastern Michigan University alumni sweatshirt for Christmas. Zizio’s sister Diane Mastin, also of Warren, is super proud of her brother.

“I think it’s amazing. He did it for self-gratification,” Mastin said. “He wanted it and he went for it.”