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Older student finds ‘miracle’ on campus

Jim Burke credits Binghamton with opening a whole new world to him — in his 50s.
“The energy from that campus just feeds me,” he says. “I’m rejuvenated.”

Burke, 57, says his learning disabilities kept him from going to college right after high school. The Troy native became a small engine mechanic and professional motorcycle builder with a home in Gilbertsville, Otsego County.

One day, he was inspired to address some of the unfinished things in his life and return to school. Burke says he feels as though he was “drafted by God.” He plans to study human development and social work before applying to rabbinical school.

“I want to pay back and help others,” Burke says, by way of explanation.

He says Jean Fairbairn, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, and her staff have helped him immensely since he began taking undergraduate classes at Binghamton in January 2007.

“I’ve had nothing but support from every single person I’ve met,” he says. “It’s nothing short of a miracle. Every single step I make turns out right.”

During this year’s Winter Session, Burke took an economics class taught by Murnal Abate, assistant director for summer and winter sessions.

“He is a charming, bright and interesting fellow and exemplifies the adage that it is never too late to pursue your academic dream,” Abate says.

Burke found ways to incorporate Jewish, Buddhist and Christian philosophy into his papers for Abate’s class, which focused on poverty and discrimination.

Best of all, the course was offered entirely online, which allowed Burke to earn academic credit while serving as a volunteer at a state park in Florida. He’ll remain in Florida for the spring semester, when he plans to do an independent study at a synagogue.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08