Italy’s oldest student celebrates degree at 97

Rome: Giuseppe Paternò, aged almost 97, has graduated with an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and History, receiving top honours from the University of Palermo.

Paternò, a former railway worker, became Italy’s oldest university graduate after enrolling in a course in his native Palermo three years ago.

Stepping up to receive his diploma and the laurel wreath traditionally awarded to Italian graduates, Paternò was met with warm applause from his teachers and fellow students more than 70 years his junior.

A widower for many years, Paternò was also applauded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren during the ceremony on 29 July.

Paternò took an old-fashioned approach to his studies, using a manual typewriter for his essays and eschewing the internet in favour of studying from printed books.

Italy’s oldest university graduate said that despite receiving only basic schooling as a child, he retained a lifelong desire to learn, graduating from high school at the age of 31.

“Knowledge is like a suitcase that I carry with me, it is a treasure” – Paternò said – “I understood that it was a little late to get a three-year degree but I said to myself ‘let’s see if I can do it’.”

After growing up in poverty, Paternò joined the navy, serving in world war two, before settling down with his family and spending his entire career working on the railways.

Focusing his thesis on his hometown of Palermo, Paternò was hailed by the university as “an example for younger students.”

The rector of the university, Professor Fabrizio Micari, thanked Paternò for the “extraordinary example of life, culture and determination that he gives to all of us.”

“Who knows, maybe I could carry on for the two years and get my Master’s” – Paternò told Reuters – “after all, my mother Giovanna lived until she was a 100 years old, maybe I can do it as well.”