Vancouver man, 71, graduates 54 years after enrolling in college
“It’s unfinished business,” Ross, now 71, recalled in 2016. “Let’s see what happens, one lesson at a time.”
On Thursday, Ross got his answer. He took to the stage in a cap and gown to receive a bachelor’s degree in 54 years, making him one of the slowest graduates in the world.
Ross doesn’t care about the distinction. He was thrilled to rekindle — and wrap up — his time as a college student, he told The Washington Post.
“I hope other people, those who are considering doing this, I hope they realize that it’s possible to do this,” Ross said. “And it’s super nice.”
Ross grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, near the University of British Columbia, and several members of his family had graduated there before him. Going there after high school seemed like a natural step, he says, even though he didn’t have a career goal in mind. Ross enrolled in 1969 and took English lessons before discovering he had a passion for acting.
“For most young people who have the acting bug, it’s a bug you can’t let go of,” Ross recalled. So he left college after two years to enroll in a Montreal theater school, leaving behind an unfinished transcript.
But after three years in drama school, Ross said he found acting too taxing. He turned to law again, which required him to re-enroll at the University of British Columbia for a year to complete the three years of college required to qualify for law school in Canada. Then he left Vancouver again—an undergraduate degree still incomplete—for law school at the University of Toronto.
Law school ended up giving Ross a degree and a decades-long career. He didn’t give much thought to the undergraduate degree he left unfinished until his retirement in 2016. Ross, a history buff, said watching a German opera revived curiosity about European society before the First World War. He wanted to learn and discuss. So he picked up the phone and called the University of British Columbia to ask if he could enroll part-time so he could attend a class in European history.
In January 2017, Ross found himself back at school, on a campus that looked different than he remembered. Ross had changed too. He had to refrain at times, he said, from talking too much in the discussion sections and touting his background as a litigator – “I had to learn to be quiet!” – but said his classmates and teachers were supportive when he shared his unusual story.
“Maybe they were surprised at the whole thing, but I think they were just welcoming,” Ross said.
One part-time class led to another, and Ross finally decided to commit to completing his studies. Luckily, he realized he only had to take history classes to complete the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts and a major in history.
Ross slowly reduced his course load. His registration was once again delayed by covid-19. Frustrated with online classes, he took another year off in 2021 and watched sympathetically as the pandemic disrupted life for the rest of the student body.
“I really commend them for persevering through tough times to now graduate and move on,” Ross said. “They are the ones, much more than me, they are the ones who deserve the credit.”
Ross completed his final class, a historiography of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, in December. All that remained was for her to receive her diploma at the university’s graduation ceremony in May. His family and children were present on Thursday when he finally received his Bachelor of Arts. Ross plans to frame it with his law certificates.
Graduating Ross might even put him in the record books. The 54 years he spent graduating, from matriculation to matriculation, narrowly tops the list of Guinness World Records for the longest time it takes to graduate, 52 years, CBC noted. Radio Canada.
Guinness World Records did not respond to a request for comment from The Post. Ross, for his part, thinks some of his graduate peers deserve more credit than he does.
“I think of all these PhD students who are also getting their PhDs, who have probably done amazing research in some field, and I’m just an anomaly who took a long time to get a degree,” Ross laughed. “It’s a bit disproportionate. But I will take it.
Ross enjoyed his last day as a student after his graduation ceremony, riding his bike to a celebratory dinner with his family where he kept his graduation cap on.
He will return to retirement, although he may soon have a challenger for his record. Ross’s wife Anne Clark, who also left college early to transfer to law school, has since teased the idea of returning to complete her undergraduate degree, he said.
“Now she’s threatening to go back to college and take even longer than it took me to get her Bachelor of Arts,” Ross laughed. “More power to her if she does that.”