At 96, Giuseppe Paterno has faced many tests in life — childhood poverty, WWII and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Now he has sailed through an exam making him Italy’s oldest university graduate.
Knowledge a ‘treasure’ for 96-year-old Italian graduate
Last month, former railway worker Giuseppe Paterno stepped forward to receive his diploma and the traditional laurel wreath awarded to Italian students when they graduate, applauded by his family, teachers and fellow students more than 70 years his junior. Already in his 90s when he enrolled for a degree in History and Philosophy at the University of Palermo, Paterno grew up loving books, but he never had the chance to study. "I am a normal person, like many others," he said, when asked what it felt like to be graduating so late. "In terms of age I have surpassed all the others but I didn’t do it for this. I said, ‘that’s it, now or never,’ and so in 2017, I decided to enroll," he told Reuters in his apartment in the Sicilian city of Palermo, which he rarely leaves nowadays due to his frailty. "I understood that it was a little late to get a three-year degree but I said to myself ‘let’s see if I can do it’."
“Knowledge is like a suitcase that I carry with me, it is a treasure,”
On Wednesday 26 July, he graduated first in his class with top honours, receiving congratulations from the university chancellor Fabrizio Micari.
Growing up in a poor family in Sicily in the years before the Great Depression, Paterno received only basic schooling as a child. He joined the navy and served during World War II before going on to work in the railways as he married and brought up two children.
In a society focused on rebuilding after the war, work and family were the priorities, but Paterno wanted to learn and graduated from high school at the age of 31, always harboring a desire to go further.
"Knowledge is like a suitcase that I carry with me, it is a treasure," he said.
As a student, he tapped out his essays on the manual typewriter his mother gave him when he retired from the railways in 1984. He eschewed Google in favor of printed books and was not tempted by the late-night student parties of his 20-year-old classmates, who applauded him warmly at the graduation ceremony.
"You are an example for younger students," his sociology professor, Francesca Rizzuto, told him after he passed his final oral examination in June.
Paterno confessed to a little unease with the video calls that replaced classroom teaching during the coronavirus shutdown, but said he was not put off by the disease itself after the war and everything else he had been through in life.
"All of that strengthened us, all of my peer group, all of those who are still alive," he said. "It didn’t really scare us that much."
As for what he planned to do next, he said he was not about to stop now he had graduated.
"My project for the future is to devote myself to writing; I want to revisit all the texts I didn’t have a chance to explore further. This is my goal."
Many congratulations, Giuseppe!
Meanwhile in the Himalayas, a 69-year-old grandfather became Nepal’s oldest highschool student after he made the decision to return to school and complete his education, proving you’re never too old to learn new things. What are you going to tackle next?
4 WAYS TO LEARN NEW THINGS (WITH PICTURES)
To learn new things is beneficial at any age, and any kind of learning can benefit other aspects of your life. For instance, taking music lessons can increase your language skills. If you're interested in a topic, study it. If you'd like a new skill, practice it. Your life is ever-changing and infinitely complex, and your ability to experience it depends on your willingness the learn. The more you learn, the more you live.