This 87-year-old is the oldest person to earn a master’s degree from York University

By Duchess Magazine

Varatha Shanmuganathan oldest person to earn a masters from York University

You’re never too old to achieve even your wildest dreams and Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, a grandmother of seven is absolute proof!

In November, the history-maker achieved her lifelong goal, proudly bagging her masters of arts in a virtual convocation due to the pandemic, thereby making history as the oldest person to earn a master’s degree according to York University spokesperson Gloria Suhasini.

A vibrant personality, Shanmuganathan, who loves to play scrabble, sing, and dance emigrated from Sri Lanka. She earned her master’s degree in political science from York University.

“It has been interesting. On the first of November, I was just an ordinary lady going about my ordinary life. On the second of November, when I graduated, everything changed,” Shanmuganathan told CNN.  Shanmugunathan’s degree focused on the civil war in Sri Lanka and efforts to reach peace.

“This has always been a dream of mine, to study politics and earn a higher degree in it, and I am happy to have finally achieved it,” she said.

Varatha Shanmuganathan offers valid advice saying:

“Find out what dream you want to follow and pursue it until the end.”

Born in Sri Lanka, in a small village called Velanai, Shanmuganathan found herself searching for answers and explanations regarding her country’s 26-year civil war.

Reminiscing on the Sri Lankan civil war which ended in May 2009, killing as many as 70,000 people, Shanmuganathan recalls:

“I always, in my heart and soul, have cherished and nourished peace, justice, equality and democracy,” Shanmuganathan said. “I wanted to tell the story of my country loud and clear to every generation — we should all yearn for peace.”

While bagging her master’s degree this time is historic, this isn’t Shanmuganathan’s first master’s degree. After earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Madras in India, she returned to Sri Lanka to teach Indian history and English, CNN reports.

In 1990, she moved to London to teach English as a second language and received her first master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of London.

Shanmuganathan immigrated to Canada in 2004 to be with her daughter, who had earned an MBA from York University’s Schulich School of Business.

She began her studies in 2019 and continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic before graduating with 4,000 other students on November 2.

Shanmuganathan “represents the best of what York University stands for — access to education, a commitment to creating an inclusive environment for all, and an unshakable determination to create a better future,” York University President Rhonda Lenton said in a statement to CNN.

“She will no doubt inspire others to pursue higher education and act as a powerful role model for women of all ages.”

Despite achieving a lifelong goal, Shanmuganathan said she is not quite done yet and aims to write a book about post-war Sri Lanka and prospects for peace,  adding she hopes her story inspires others to look inside themselves to discover their passions, the site reports.

“You should always have a goal in life,” Shanmuganathan said. “Find out what dream you want to follow and pursue it until the end. Think of something that interests you, but is also beneficial to others. Go on after it, get it, do it, achieve it.”


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