[based on some of the comments this post is getting, I think I'll do a full-blown follow-up where the grad students talk back to the proffies... stay tuned for more info]
My forever-student in the M.A. program (seriously, folks: he started in fall 2004, vanished off the face of the earth for ages at a time on more than one occasion) not only finished an excellent thesis right before I left on sabbatical; he just won our college's "best thesis" award.
I don't think he's going on to a Ph.D. program -- getting through even the M.A. proved to be a challenge, and I'd have to mention it in any letter I wrote. And it's a shame, because he's obviously got the intellectual firepower to do it.
So, what do you do with students like this: intelligent, excellent writers, creative thinkers, but inconsistent? Ones that drift in occasionally with a stack of truly superior work, then you don't hear from them for ages? I'm sure he won't be the last of this breed, and I'd love to hear some other opinions.
And yes: he was working full-time. But still: five years for an M.A.?