The Farmer File: A law student with real ‘seniority’

DON FARMER

We used to call our neighbor John Arceri by his first name. Now we call him 2-L John.

That’s because John, 69, of Marco Island, has passed the exams at Ave Maria School of Law, which makes him a second year law student. Yep, Grandpa is on his way to the worlds of Perry Mason, Clarence Darrow, Gloria Allred and, well, you get the idea. Besides, 2-L John might not choose to emulate any of the above.

John is unique, the oldest law student at Ave Maria and maybe the oldest law student in Florida. It has been tough; just applying was a challenge. The school requires transcripts of all previous college work, vehicle driving records and more.

“My undergraduate degree was finished 50 years ago, my master’s degree almost 35 years ago and my doctorate work more than 20 years ago. Colleges had to search their archives to find my transcripts,” Arceri said. “Driving records were even more challenging. The typical 22-year-old law student only needed to go back four years. I needed driving records from 50 years back. Getting letters from former professors was impossible. Most of mine were deceased.”

2-L John also launched a physical fitness regimen to survive the law school grind. He lost 50 pounds, took B-12 shots and drank six cups of coffee a day, no decaf.

“I was putting in 14 hours a day, seven days a week in class work, homework, study and preparing exam outlines. In law school there is only one exam, the final, so everything you do during the semester is to prepare for that,” he said.

John loves it, in and out of the classroom, and says he gets huge support from his fellow law students.

“They were very nice, very respectful, so much so I couldn’t get them to call me John.”

“Please call me John,” he’d ask.

“OK, Mr. Arceri,” they’d answer.

Well, it beats “Hey dude,” right John?

His age and extensive education help his quest, but John says law school is fundamentally different than getting a master’s or a doctorate.

“Nothing is like law school. It requires a higher level of commitment. It’s unforgiving and breathtaking,” he said. “I’m finding out the hard way why most older people don’t try law school. Older people have some disadvantages associated with energy, memory and computer skills but we also have great advantages. Our typical great work ethic drives us to work harder. Our life experiences truly help add diversity and flavor to the school environment. We also don’t have the challenge of combining a social life or child raising with law school studies. All in all, it is a worthwhile adventure.

“I will be about 71 when I graduate and older than that when and if I pass the bar exams. Many ask why I‘m doing this, giving up travel, softball, visiting the grandkids, tennis and fishing. Why not?

“My eight grandkids demand to see my report cards (as I had demanded to see theirs in the past) and they are my biggest supporters. I also need the $5 each gives me for above average grades. I have no option but to continue on and finish this adventure.”

Rah rah, sis boom bah. Go 2-L John. One day we’ll be calling you “Esquire.”

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Don Farmer is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and CNN news anchor. He can be reached at don@donfarmer.com.

© 2011 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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