A 96-year-old man who recently graduated college in Italy is not only celebrating his personal accomplishment, but also a historic one as he becomes the oldest person in the country to earn a college degree.
On July 29, Giuseppe Paterno graduated at the top of his class from the University of Palermo with a degree in history and philosophy, according to Reuters.
The former railway worker had been working toward his degree for the past three years and was commended by his family and the university’s staff and students — notably, more than 70 years younger than him — as he finally accepted his diploma last week.
“I am a normal person, like many others. In terms of age, I have surpassed all the others but I didn’t do it for this,” Paterno told Reuters after graduating. “I said, ‘That’s it, now or never,’ and so in 2017, I decided to enroll.”
“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,’” he added.
Originally from Sicily, Paterno grew up in a poor family prior to the Great Depression and only received basic schooling in his childhood, according to Reuters.
He eventually joined the navy and served during World War II, the outlet reported. Later, Paterno pursued a career working on the railways, got married and welcomed two children.
Though he was living through poverty and war, Paterno was always passionate about learning and furthering his education. At age 31, he graduated from high school but then didn’t return to the classroom until 2017, according to Reuters.
While enrolled at the University of Palermo, Paterno said he relied on a manual typewriter that his mother gave him after retiring from the railroad in 1984. He also used printed books as opposed to Google for research, the outlet reported.
In March, Paterno faced another challenge when the coronavirus pandemic hit Italy, halting his in-person classes and forcing him to learn through video conferences from his home in Palermo.
Still, his determination to earn his degree never wavered.
“All of that strengthened us, all of my peer group, all of those who are still alive,” he told Reuters. “It didn’t really scare us that much.”
Now, with a new college degree, Paterno said he wants to continue learning and looks forward to expanding his knowledge on his own time.
“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,” he explained to the outlet. “Knowledge is like a suitcase that I carry with me, it is a treasure.”