Rewriting history: Advice from a 93-year-old university graduate
Robin Guard had a bit of trepidation walking into his first class as an English Lit major at Ontario’s Brock University several years ago.
Then an Octogenarian, Guard was returning to school 67 years after earning his first degree in his hometown of London, England. And, this time around, his new peers were young enough to be his grandchildren.
“I was frankly nervous, yes,” Guard told CTVNews.ca in an interview from his home in St. Catharines, Ont., where the now 93-year-old great-grandfather will obtain his Master’s degree in History on Friday.
He was so nervous, in fact, that he approached one of his professors and said, “Am I an embarrassment in your class?” To his delight, the professor turned around and told him that he was just the opposite.
“I always remember the professor said, ‘No, we welcome you like crazy because we can’t get these students to talk, to tell us what they think. You old guys, you’re always ready to slap your mouths and talk,'” Guard recalled with a laugh.
Indeed, Guard’s passion for the subject matter served him well in his ensuing golden university years. Guard ended up finishing his Bachelor program in 2012, with flying colours. So he went back to pursue his Master’s degree, which he’ll obtain on Friday during a convocation ceremony.
“I once got into a heated argument with one of the students,” he said. “That’s nothing but good. I mean, we’re treating each other like equals even though I’m old enough to be their grandfather.”
Brock University says Guard is the oldest graduate in the school’s history. Even more impressive, he is believed to be one of the oldest graduates ever in Ontario.
The jovial 93-year-old didn’t start out as a history buff. It came with age. Guard was trained as an electrical engineer and travelled the world working in nuclear power. In 1965, he received offers he “couldn’t refuse” in a rapidly industrializing Canada, and moved his family to Montreal. After a move to Ontario, Guard retired from engineering and he and his wife Barbara began farming for 20 years in the country. “I’m very passionate about organic food,” he said.
After Barbara’s passing, Guard said he “immediately” sold the farm. “I couldn’t imagine working there without her,” he said.
After spending a few years trying to move on from the death of his beloved wife, Guard wanted “something to occupy my mind.”
To his delight, he discovered that undergraduate university classes were free for people over 65, so he signed up. “And the rest was history.”
After getting his feet wet with his Bachelor’s degree, Guard’s friend and fellow graduate, 74-year-old Allan Edgington, encouraged him to pursue his Master’s degree with him.
“We both decided, what the hell,” Edgington said in an interview with CTV News’ Peter Akman. “Let’s continue with history. And so started working toward a Master’s, which we both achieved.”
For his Master’s thesis, Guard ended up researching the history of the Anglican Church in Canada and particularly in St. Catharines.
Guard and Edgington made quite an impression on Dean of Humanities Carol Merriam, who will be attending their convocation. She told CTVNews.ca that she fondly remembers teaching Guard a fourth-year undergraduate Latin literature class. Guard was a model student, so he was “always prepared” and “always engaged” and had “serious conversations about the material we were reading and discussing.”
So is a PhD in the cards for Guard now? “No, no that’s a bridge too far,” he said.
Today, he’s “torn” between going back to Brock to study some more or writing a memoir. “I found that people are remarkably interested in how different the world was in the 1920s when I was born, horse-drawn transport, that kind of thing.”
“And so I thought I’d concentrate on writing my own history.”
So does Guard have any advice for students, young and old, entering their post-secondary years? "Keep healthy by constant exercise, eat a balanced diet and keep your mind active by reading."
“You only have one life,” Guard said, during an interview with CTV News at Brock University on Wednesday. “You might as well try everything.
“Being stuck in one career is a waste of time.”
On Friday, two of Guard’s four adult children, those who live nearby, will attend his convocation.