The Ontario grandmother becomes the oldest person to obtain a master’s degree at York University

A grandmother in Ontario, who is the oldest person to graduate with a master’s degree from York University, says young people should use their college education to create positive change in the world.

Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, a resident of Vaughan, graduated Tuesday with her second master’s degree.

“I want to tell them, the younger generation, make your degrees, not just for the sake of your career. That should be something that should be life-changing,” Shanmuganathan said in a Twitter message.

“And you should think, not of yourself all the time, but think of your country, think of the world, think of all the issues that are being discussed in this world.”

In an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro tomorrow, Shanmuganathan said she considers herself a history student. She said she has always been interested in local and world politics. She considered taking a PhD in political science, but decided that if she started in higher education, it would go on and on, and she might not finish.

She started her second master’s degree at the age of 85. The topic of her research was Sri Lanka after the civil war there and prospects for peace.

“This has been a lifelong ambition to do something in political science,” Shanmuganathan said on Tuesday.

“This is an incredible journey, which is an academic journey. I would call it a pilgrimage. All the time I have been on it. But today I came to the destination, I think.”

She said she decided to study at York University because the school offered an incentive to exempt tuition fees for Canadian citizens or residents 60 years of age or older.

Metro tomorrow8:01“A lifelong ambition:” 87-year-old Varatha Shanmuganathan becomes the oldest person to earn a master’s degree from York University

Varatha Shanmuganathan graduated from York University on Tuesday with her second master’s degree in political science. 8:01

According to York Media Relations, Shanmuganathan was born in the village of Velanai in Sri Lanka. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Madras in India. After returning to Sri Lanka, she became a teacher of Indian history and English. Later she received a diploma in education from the University of Ceylon.

She received her first master’s degree from the University of London when she was in her 50s.

In 2004, she immigrated to Canada after being sponsored by her daughter, who holds an MBA from York’s Schulich School of Business. Shanmuganathan was accepted to York’s fall and winter session in 2019.

When she walked on campus, she said it felt like “going into a temple.” But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she had to study at home, with her daughter, his son-in-law and her four-year-old granddaughter there, “it was a big shock.”

The first three months were stressful, but she decided to continue, and then she adapted. The pandemic meant she had to defend her master’s thesis through Zoom.

“I have something in me – a shock absorber. Confidence. It helped me,” she said.

Younger students at York helped her along the way, and mingling with them made her feel rejuvenated, she said.

“I really appreciated the support they all gave me.”

Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, a resident of Vaughan, graduated Tuesday with her second master’s degree. (Posted by Varatha Shanmuganathan)

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