Keeping our brains active and engaged, stimulated and challenged is important. I was reminded of why lifelong learning is important when I recently interviewed David Bottomley.

Aged 94, he’s the oldest PhD graduate in Australia’s history.

Photo of older man with white hair, white shirt and light blue jumper sitting down who loves lifelong learning.

When I met him, he was still chuffed that the Vice Chancellor of Curtin University had personally congratulated him.

Why did he keep studying in his 90’s? ‘Why not?’ was his answer.

He intends that his thesis, Science, Education and Social Vision of Five Nineteenth Century

Headmasters, will be put to work and help put creativity into the curriculum. He also hopes his findings will encourage older Australians to be creative.

Just don’t mention the ‘R’ word with Bottomley.

‘Retirement! Hmph!’ he exclaimed. ‘I can’t even spell the word.’ For emphasis, he added:

‘Retirement? Dreadful thought.’

Lifelong Learning , The World’s Oldest Graduate

Another person who also kept studying was the late Allan Stewart OAM. I chatted with him a few years ago. He’d had the title ‘world’s oldest graduate’ bestowed upon him. He had originally studied dentistry.

Photo of man holding university degree, he has a mortar board on his head and a gown with red collar who has engaged in lifelong learning.

He served in World War 2, worked, volunteered and, in his retirement, hit the books.

When I asked Stewart what his family thought about his studies, he simply said: ‘Well, I have a 70-year-old daughter doing a degree course at a university . . .’

He also said that study was more than graduating. ‘ I believe in mental exercise as a health measure.’

He passed away at 103 years of age.

The One Day University

There are many ways people can keep on learning in their retirement. There are various places where people can continue to learn: community courses, University of the 3rd Age courses, as well as tertiary courses.

Gateway to old university that encourages lifelong learning.

Stephen Schragis is the founder of One Day University ‘ODU.’

It’s a unique adult education program where people can enrol for a day and hear lectures by leading professors.

‘Watch hundreds of fascinating talks by over 200 remarkable professors chosen from 150 top-tier schools.
New talks every day. Curated just for you’.

The idea came to him when his daughter enrolled at university. Steven told me that he thought, ‘I wish I was the one going to college! This is much more fun than going to an office.’

The average age of attendees at ODU is 60 years old, and they ‘receive the recognition of attending a seminar.’ ODU is popular, with about 70% of people returning after the first event.

Currently it’s only available in the US.

‘Would ODU come to Australia?’ I asked Schragis.


Lifelong Learning and Laneway Learning

In most Australian capital cities, Laneway Learning offers one-off classes in pop-up locations.

Person holding glasses in a laneway to a lifelong learning centre.

Classes are of 75-minutes duration. Topics are diverse and include such topics as medieval martial arts, illustrated botanical postcards, understanding your emotional intelligence, future ethics, making rice paper rolls, film and theatre—the list goes on.

Author and writer Stephen Petersen, in his retirement, presents on various topics including ‘Japan—what your travel agent won’t tell you.’

He’s a supporter of Laneway Learning. When I asked him his thoughts on retirement, he said, ‘It gives unlimited potential and opportunity.’

We don’t have to undertake serious studies in retirement, but keeping our brain charged and challenged is a necessity.

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