IN his mid-80s, Broulee’s Sidney Chuck went searching for meaning and this week found himself the capped and gowned holder of a university degree.
On Tuesday, the Banksia Village resident, aged 88, became the oldest student to graduate from the University of Wollongong’s Batemans Bay campus.
“I was seeking a purpose and I read in a seniors’ publication about mature-age
students and thought maybe I could do something like that,” the Bachelor of Arts graduate said.
“I thought a couple of subjects might satisfy me.”
Instead, he has devoured fiction and fact with double majors in English literature and history, exploring everything from the injustice of American slavery to the complex trading culture of northern Australia’s indigenous past.
He has not looked back since his cold call in mid-2010 to campus manager Gayl Vidgen met a warm welcome.
“From then on it was smooth sailing,” he said.
Ms Vidgen said Mr Chuck’s success was “a highlight of my 14 years here”.
“He told me he wanted to help others with literacy and I knew he was a goer,” she said.
“His technology skills were just amazing and he did not just pass, he got distinctions and credits.”
Mr Chuck grew up in Sydney and joined the Royal Australian Air Force at the age of 18 in 1943.
He was posted to Pacific Ocean bases to listen in on enemy radio transmissions. In 1950 he gained a diploma in electrical engineering, but always wanted to stretch out.
“Engineers are a special breed, centred on technology and on their professions and they often lack the social skills necessary to get by,” he said.
“I have always lamented that I have not been able to spend time learning skills other than technology.
“I loved English literature and history.
We went to the southern states of the USA recently and having read literature about the slave era made it much more meaningful. It is one thing to walk through the
mansions and the Oak Alley Plantation, but (another) to realise it has been built upon the service of others. There were several books written by former slaves and they were most telling.”
Australian history also surprised him.
“I learned things I had never known, even though I had lived here for such a long time,” he said.
He was struck at how much trade was conducted between indigenous peoples in Australia’s north and other cultures, before colonisation.
Mr Chuck said students of all ages welcomed him.
“I was not treated like the oddity I should have been, the grandfather figure among a group of young eager beavers,” he said.
Mr Chuck is proud his youngest grandson will also graduate this month, in Auckland with a degree in music.
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