More than five decades after he began his studies, Arthur Ross finally walked across the stage at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on Thursday to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree.
Mr Ross, 71, said he is likely the “slowest student” at the Vancouver University.
He also may be the slowest in the world. It took him precisely 54 years to finish his degree – two years longer than the Guinness World Record holder, Robert FP Cronin, who began his biology degree at Princeton University in 1948 and graduated in 2000.
But Mr Ross said he is in no rush to claim his world record title. The real reward, he said, was the knowledge he was able to gain through his classes.
“I just wanted to learn because I was curious,” Mr Ross told the BBC this week. That desire for learning, he said, is what inspired him to finish his degree after all these years.
When Mr Ross first enrolled at UBC in 1969, the US had just landed the first man on the moon and The Beatles were about to release their seminal album Abbey Road.
He was fresh out of high school back then, he said, and not “particularly focused on anything”. Mr Ross got involved with the theatre club on campus, where he discovered a passion for acting.
After only two years at UBC, Mr Ross decided to switch course and move to Montreal, where he began studying at the National Theatre School.
He did complete his studies there, receiving a certificate of accomplishment. But Mr Ross said he soon realised that he did not want acting to become his career.
“I decided, ‘well, maybe I should go to law school and become a lawyer,’ sort of that last resort for everybody who can’t quite figure out what they want to do,” he said.
Mr Ross went back to UBC to finish an extra year of schooling, for a total of three years needed in order to apply to law school. He was accepted to the University of Toronto’s law school, where he received his Juris Doctor.
He went on to have a fulfilling law career for 35 years, he said, before he retired in 2016.
It was then that Mr Ross decided that it may be time to finish what he started nearly five decades earlier.
“It had always been in the back of my mind that, ‘oh, maybe someday you’ll go back to university and start working on finishing that degree.’”
Mr Ross took it at his own pace, doing one course at a time up until his graduation.
He decided to focus his studies on history, inspired to learn more about World War I after watching the 1909 German opera Elektra.
“It’s a waste not to take the opportunity to study something, anything, that is of interest to you,” he said. “Here, the opportunity has presented itself to me, and I have enjoyed it.”
A few things had changed when Mr Ross returned to UBC all these years later, he said. For one, the campus had expanded in size, and his tuition was free now that he is a retired senior.
Technology had also developed by leaps and bounds, allowing him – like most students during the Covid-19 pandemic – to finish some of his classes online.
Mr Ross said the experience left him in awe of the accomplished faculty at UBC as well as his fellow students who managed to stick through their studies despite the difficulties and disruptions of the pandemic.
“They certainly lost something at that point, but a part of their character emerged that said ‘OK, we’ll just have to do this in a different way,’” Mr Ross said. “I have tremendous admiration for them finishing.”
After six years of working on his degree, Mr Ross said he was excited to walk across the stage and mark his accomplishment.
“I have been to all of my children’s graduations,” he said. Now, it was his family’s turn to celebrate him.
As for what is next, Mr Ross said he is not in a hurry to figure it out.
“My daughter says I really should go off and pursue a master’s degree somewhere,” but he said he will wait and see. “I am pleased to have come this far.”