A WWII Veteran Pursues His Dreams in 'Clarence'

Clarence in the library
Director’s Cut “Clarence” airs 9 p.m. Friday, July 3 on Wisconsin Public Television.

This week on Director’s Cut we welcome Kristin Catalano, the creative force behind the documentary Clarence. Clarence tells the story of World War II veteran Clarence Garrett who decides to return to college to pursue his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after “cutting class” for more than 50 years.

It’s hard enough to stay focused on your education after a week-long spring break. Picture yourself returning to the world of academia after fighting in a war, raising a family and having a full career while now being hard of hearing, lacking computer skills and moving at a snail’s pace while going from class to class.

The film is a thumbnail of Clarence’s life, one spent overcoming obstacle after obstacle and doing so the only way Clarence knows how, with a never-say-die, can-do attitude. The story Catalano tells is not only inspiring but also uplifting. Clarence’s infectious personality elevates those around him with his “you’re only here once so why be anything but upbeat” attitude.

Catalano does a nice job of showing how Clarence immerses himself in campus life, making solid friendships with a generation of students at least twice removed from his own and engaging his professors in the process. There is no way anyone can not feel great about life while watching Clarence achieve his long postponed dream after making sacrifices to provide for his family and putting the academic needs of his children before his own.

The biggest challenge for Clarence, and possibly Catalano as director, was when Clarence was hospitalized shortly before completing his first semester, forcing him to fall behind. Clarence takes this in stride as just another of life’s inevitable hurdles. Since quitting never seems to have been an option for Clarence in his life, he pushes on as he has always done, with a determined yet whimsical grace.

Please put the bottle rockets down for an hour or so and join us for Director’s Cut on Wisconsin Public Television 9 p.m. Friday night to celebrate a nice little film about a great, inspiring American. Hope to see you then, indie film fans. Have a fun and safe 4th of July!

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