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GRADUATING FOR 4TH TIME IS STILL A THRILL FOR DENTIST

Kent Acomb had been through it all before - the caps, the gowns, the marching to Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1."

But somehow even after three previous trips to pick up the sheepskin and though 50 years have passed since he first strolled the University of Utah campus, the university's 121st commencement was still a thrill Friday morning.Acomb, who actually finished his coursework in December, returned to campus to collect his diploma Friday. So did his son, Stanford, who received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.

"It seems to put a capping on it all. It makes it seem complete," Acomb said of graduation.

It wasn't a new experience, because Friday's bachelor of arts degree, with a major in Spanish and a minor in German, was Acomb's fourth college degree, his second since he retired as an Army colonel in 1982.

In 1985, he received an associate degree from Salt Lake Community College in data processing. A year later, he entered the U. to begin working toward his languages degree.

But that wasn't his first time at the U. In 1940, after graduating from East High School, he started his first classes, graduating four years later with a bachelor of arts degree in accounting and economics.

Then, after a civilian job overseas with the War Department, Acomb returned to school, taking predental classes and earning his doctorate in dentistry from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, in 1957. He was an Army oral surgeon until his retirement.

"I often said I didn't want to be the oldest dentist practicing dentistry. Often people get too focused on their careers and miss out on a lot of life. I enjoyed my career, but I wanted to see some other parts of life," said the 67-year-old Acomb of his decision to retire eight years ago.

But he didn't want to sit around either. "It's nice to keep abreast of new ideas and not become placid about life around you. Rocking chairs and things like that never appealed to me."

He settled first on pursuing a data-processing degree because while in the military he realized that "the computer is the wave of the future."

The computer buff puts his data-processing degree to work by volunteering as the secretary-treasurer for several civic groups.

The pursuit of the languages degree came "just for my own edification," said Acomb, whose interest grew from having lived eight years in Germany and from traveling the world as an Army officer and since his retirement with wife, Jeanine.

Although there is a growing number of citizens returning to the college classroom (the U. has 45 students age 61 or older), Acomb found his languages classmates mostly in their 20s. But the grandfather of five was well-accepted and joined their study groups.

"They knew a lot more than I did. A lot were returned missionaries and already had a good command of the language. I had to work my tail off to keep up with them," he said.

The advocate of lifelong learning ("education is something that should never stop no matter what you are interested in") has been taking even more classes since finishing his degree six months ago. He doesn't plan to stop.

But he doesn't know if another degree is in his future. "I'm ready to just coast a little now," he said.