Sri Lankan grandma makes history as oldest master’s degree earner at Canada’s York University

Sri Lankan grandma York University Varatha Shanmuganathan

A Sri Lankan grandma has just earned her master’s degree from a Canadian university at the age of 87.

Just a number: Varatha Shanmuganathan received her political science degree from York University on Nov. 2, becoming the oldest person to do so in the university’s history, reported CNN.

  • Shanmuganathan, who was born in the Sri Lankan village of Velanai, has stayed active in her senior years by spending her time playing and singing with her seven grandchildren.
  • In 2004, she immigrated to Canada to live with her daughter, who happens to have earned an MBA from York University.
  • According to the octogenarian, she was enticed to pursue a lifelong dream of earning a master’s degree in politics upon learning that tuition is free for senior citizens studying at York University. She has always been passionate about learning more about her country’s history, particularly the civil war that resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people.
  • The war, which started in 1983, ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, a militant group that aimed to form an independent Tamil state in 2009.
  • “I always, in my heart and soul, have cherished and nourished peace, justice, equality and democracy,” Shanmuganathan was quoted as saying. “I wanted to tell the story of my country loud and clear to every generation — we should all yearn for peace.”
  • She started studying in 2019 and graduated in November, along with 4,000 other students.

Not her first: Shanmuganathan, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Madras in India, received her first master’s degree from the University of London back in the ’90s.

  • After earning her bachelor’s, Shanmuganathan first spent time teaching English and Indian history in Sri Lanka.
  • She then moved to London in 1990 to teach English as a second language (ESL) and ended up pursuing a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of London.
  • After getting her second master’s degree, Shanmuganathan is now planning on writing a book, according to CTV News.
  • Shanmuganathan’s daughter, Priya Merritt, said their family is not surprised by Shanmuganathan’s accomplishments.
  • “She’s always talked about how age is not a barrier in life, just like race and gender should not be,” she told CTV News.

Featured Image via York University

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