Joan Oliver graduates with law degree age 75
"I thought I had missed the boat." Joan Oliver graduates with a law degree age 75.

Joan Oliver has fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to university, graduating with her law degree at the age of 75.

Her journey of education and discovery started with enrolling at VU and becoming Victoria's oldest high school graduate, and finished more than seven years later with a law degree.

Ms Oliver, who grew up in West Brunswick, left school at age 13, and was sent to work in a dressing gown factory that she describes as “noisy, dirty and boring”. 

Her mother, like many people of the era, believed that school was for boys, not girls. Ms Oliver longed to continue studying and, ironically, her brother couldn’t wait to stop.

The mind-numbing dullness of the factory prompted her to study shorthand and typing at night school, and this led to a long career of clerical work punctuated by marriage and two sons.

“But I always wanted to do more.”

Justice always an interest

Ms Oliver’s retirement plan was to play a lot of golf, but a neck injury put a stop to that. This seemed like the ideal time to fulfill that long-held ambition of going back to school.

She completed her Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) with classmates less than a third her age before embarking on a Bachelor of Criminal Justice and then transferring to a Bachelor of Laws. Along the way, she was nominated for a VU Achievement Scholarship.

Throughout her life, Ms Oliver has been an avid reader. Studying law aligns with one of her abiding interests, that of trying to understand man’s inhumanity to man.

“I’m particularly interested in the slave trade and the holocaust. I travelled to Eastern Europe in 2018 and visited Auschwitz. It was horrible, but I had to do it. I think the holocaust should be taught in schools.”

Her family and friends are overwhelmingly positive about her decision to study.

“My eldest son tells everyone his mum is a law graduate."

It’s never too late. I thought I had missed the boat, but I hadn’t. It doesn’t take long to feel at home on campus and studying with younger people is wonderful. I learned from them. They learned from me.

The death of her husband, Albert, in June - when she had just one unit to complete – made her final stages of studying even more challenging.

“I wasn’t sure whether I should put it off, but I thought it had to be done sometime, so in between his passing away and the funeral, I did the exam. I expected to just scrape through with a pass, but I got a distinction.”

Ms Oliver’s intention is to put her degree to use volunteering for community groups. In the meantime, she reads a lot, walks about one and a half hours a day, and swims.

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