Doris LeRoy dropped out of school when she was 14, but 57 years later she has completed her PhD at Victoria University while overcoming breast cancer.
The 71-year-old Altona resident said she hoped her determination to complete her study would inspire other seniors to chase their dreams.
"I was pretty sick the whole way through,'' Ms LeRoy said. "I was diagnosed a year into the PhD but I just kept working because it was the best thing to do. I'd get treatment in Footscray and then trot down to the uni to continue studying.
"I also had two hip replacements during my study so it's been a struggle but I got there. I really can't believe I've done it.''
Ms LeRoy said she had followed the example of her late husband who continued his university education after battling serious illness, including lymphoma.
"Unfortunately he died of complications following a severe stroke when I was 61 which was pretty unfair. But I thought, if he can fight the cancer while studying, I can too. Not that I ever meant it to take this long. I was an accidental student really. I still have to learn how to use a computer properly. That could be next on the agenda.''
The mother of four and grandmother of three said her PhD thesis, entitled Anglicanism, Anti-communism and Cold War Australia, was stimulated by the lack of historic research about the role of the Anglican Church in politics during the 1950s.
"I would absolutely encourage other older students to complete their study. It's important because when it was suggested to me I thought 'I can't do that'. I was a bit worried about the younger students, but they've been really friendly and haven't differentiated at all.
"I got scholarships offered to me on my Honours marks from Deakin, Melbourne and VU. But I stayed at VU because it is such a caring and nurturing place and everyone encouraged me all the way through. No-one ever said I was too old. I would never have done it without their support.''
Ms LeRoy will receive her doctorate and give a valedictory address at a graduation ceremony on December 1.
She is one of 1118 VU graduates who will attend the ceremonies, which will be held in the Members Stand at Flemington Racecourse between November 30 and December 3. A total of 6331 students will graduate from VU during this round.