Italy’s oldest college graduate shatters educational stereotypes

by Shirley Williams
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Today, most college graduates still earn their degrees shortly after graduating from high school. Yet strong evidence suggests education may hold benefits as a life-long activity. Attempting to impose age restrictions on educational opportunities potentially limits achievement. The case of Giuseppe Paterno certainly suggests even senior citizens sometimes demonstrate impressive academic accomplishments.

Italy’s oldest college graduate

Giuseppe Paterno graduated at age 96 from the University of Palermo in July, 2020. The Second World War significantly disrupted his education. He left school to enlist in the Italian Navy and then served during the conflict. Later, Mr. Paterno would graduate from high school at the late age of 31.

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He then spent many years raising a family. He worked in the railroad industry. Only after retirement did he decide to pursue his lifelong dream of attending an institution of higher education. He enrolled in college classes at age 90, graduating with top honors last year with a degree in History and Philosophy. Both his professors and the University Chancellor commended the 96-year old as an exemplary student.

Seniors breaking barriers in U.S. education

Available data concerning elderly college students remains scant. Yet at least one recent study suggests pursuing academic programs later in life might even eventually assist some seniors in reducing certain risk factors associated with the development of senior dementias. The researchers conducted a statistical analysis to examine factors contributing to the academic performance of older learners.

Engaging in stimulative cognitive activities during middle life reportedly hold significant benefits for these individuals. The study indicated two other variables, maintaining language pricessing skills and “episodic” memory capabilities, also proved very important in predicting academic success for this demographic group. Surprisingly perhaps, IQ did not constitute an important variable in the findings.

Other impressive senior college graduates

Across the United States, a growing number of seniors do graduate from college as nontraditional students. For example, Lupita Moreno, a nurse, earned her degree in Psychology at the age of 75 from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley last year. A grandmother, she did not commence her college studies until 2015. She enrolled in college for the first time at the comparatively advanced age of 70. Although her age exceeded that of many of her professors, she found the experience rewarding. She plans to utilize her degree to enhance her profession.

Recently, 69-year old Lauretta Jones became the oldest person to graduate from Chaffey College in California. She worked as a corrections officer and served in the national guard, before retiring to spend many years caring for her elderly parents. Ms. Jones earned an associate degree in Anthropology. She overcame numerous challenges during the time she spent as a nontraditional college student, including a lack of transportation (she rode the bus to reach the campus). She now plans to continue her studies in Social Work at California State University in San Bernardino.

Young people excelling in an academic setting

A trend towards lifelong education does not preclude young people from demonstrating remarkable academic achievements, of course. Last year, Jack Rico became the first person in history to graduate from Fullerton College in California with four degrees at the young age of 13. His mother realized his elementary school curriculum had ceased challenging him after he reached the Third Grade. She withdrew her son from a formal educational program that year and began teaching him at home.

The youngster subsequently graduated from high school at the age of 11. He studied for two years at Fullerton College in California in four associate degree programs. This year, he will continue his studies at an out-of-state four-year university.

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