Finally graduating (by law) after 12 short years

While many students worry about how they will get through college in four years, Johnny Lechner, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student, is reluctantly graduating next month after completing 12 years of college.

If he had the choice, he said, this year wouldn’t be his last.

But the state of Wisconsin recently passed legislation, commonly referred to as “the Johnny Lechner law,” essentially doubling his tuition because he could have graduated years ago.

It seems Lechner is just having too much fun at school. Though he admits he’s seen his fair share of “keg stands and toga parties,” Johnny seems to genuinely enjoy the whole college experience, including classes. He even claims to have had a streak of seven years in which he didn’t take home a grade lower than a B.

“There is something very refreshing about being surrounded by college students,” Lechner said. “There is that desire everywhere for self-improvement and self-actualization … I feel as if people in the ‘real world’ are there just trying to claw and scratch for as much as they can get. There is little greed and envy in the college world, since we’re all on the same level.”

These days Lechner takes about seven credits a semester, and his earliest class this semester is at 12:30 p.m.

He said he usually goes to bed around 4 a.m. and gets up around 10 a.m.

Lechner’s parents differ in their views about how their son has turned college into a career. “My mother gets it! She totally understands that happiness is the most important thing you can be pursuing, and she has been very supportive,” he said.

His father, on the other hand, is less than thrilled about his son’s extended stay at college. Lechner said his dad once offered him a car to graduate.

Just as his parents see his choice differently, Lechner said that there are always people who will be vocal about his decision to stay in college, whether they think what he’s doing is awesome or just plain stupid.

“My response, either way, is that I am just following my heart and doing what feels right,” he said. Lechner’s long stay at college has earned him international media attention. Articles about his extended education have been published in countless newspapers and journals, including the New York Times and the Times of London. Late night legend David Letterman even had Lechner on his show. But perhaps the most impressive was a job offer from National Lampoon last year, which Johnny decided not to accept because (you guessed it!) he wanted to stay in school.

Lechner, 29, is paying his own way through his final year of college with income he earned from working at the Olive Garden, as a musician and from donations made to his college fund through his Web site, www.johnnylechner.com.

When he graduates in May, he will have enough credits for three majors: theater, communications and liberal studies, and three minors: pre-school education, health education and women’s studies.

Mary C. Schell can be reached at marycherrie@gmail.com.

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