Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, received her masters of arts on Tuesday afternoon in a virtual convocation due to the pandemic, making her the oldest person to receive a masters degree from York University.
TORONTO — She’s a mother of four, grandmother of seven, and now the oldest person to receive a master’s degree from York University.
Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, received her masters of arts from the Ontario university on Tuesday afternoon in a virtual convocation due to the pandemic.
“I am humble and proud,” she told CTV News.
It’s actually Shanmuganathan’s second master’s degree, but although her achievement at this age may seem surprising to some, her family said it’s in line with the woman they know.
“We’re very proud of her,” Priya Merritt, her daughter, told CTV news. “But we’re actually not surprised. She’s always talked about how age is not a barrier in life, just like race and gender should not be.”
Born in Sri Lanka, Shanmuganathan’s love of learning was encouraged by her parents.
“I was the only daughter and there were three brothers,” she said. “I was treated the same way. They knew I was someone who was studious and wanted to learn more.”
She went off university in India, returning to teach in Sri Lanka, where she met her husband, also a teacher. The couple soon left for jobs in Africa and England.
“We have lived in different cultures, different countries, different climates,” she said.
And she’s seen the effects of war in her own country, and in Ethiopia when its civil war began in the 1970s.
“We were right there in the middle of it,” she said. “We watched it.”
Shanmuganathan says those experiences, coupled with the teachings of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, led her to pursue her second master’s degree at York. She wrote her research paper on the civil war in Sri Lanka and the prospect of peace.
“All of us human beings should be treated equally,” she said. “This is the message I want to give.”
Her next plan is to write a book — proving that age is truly just a number.