'Don't give up,' says 74-year-old master's graduate

 Elizabeth Robertson. (Picture: Stellenbosch University)
Elizabeth Robertson. (Picture: Stellenbosch University)

When Elizabeth Robertson, 74, started her master's degree at Stellenbosch University, her fellow students thought she was a new professor on campus.

Once the students found out she was one of them, they were polite, respectful, and turned, like her, to stressing about whether they would pass.

"I am still astounded," said Robertson, of her graduation on Thursday last week with a master's degree in ancient cultures, cum laude.

Robertson, who is originally from England, told News24 that there were many days that she just wanted to give up, and when she handed in her dissertation, the wait for the examiners' feedback was so long that she feared the worst.

"I really began to think I had failed," she said.

Robertson studied the 6th and 5th century BCE educational systems in Athens and Sparta, the two most prominent city states in those periods.

Her thesis topic was "Growing up Greek: The differing journeys through childhood in ancient Athens and Sparta".

It was not her first time at university.

Her major for her Bachelor of Arts degree had been in history.

'Blood, sweat, tears'

Her husband died in 2010 and a few years later she moved to Stellenbosch and then to Somerset West, according to Stellenbosch University's biography on her. Robertson did not know anybody except her daughter and her daughter's family.

She felt it would be unfair for her daughter and her family to keep her entertained, so when she saw an advertisement for a postgraduate diploma at Stellenbosch, she signed up, and completed it in 2014.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it," she said.

"When it was done I didn't know what do with myself. So I thought I would do a master's."

She said the last three months of the programme were difficult and draining – "a nightmare really".

Asked for advice to other students struggling with the last long haul, she said: "Think how much it has cost you in blood, sweat, and tears. Don't give up. It's just the last hurdle."

Although Robertson reads a lot and misses the depth she found in the books she read for her master's, for now further study is not part of her plan.

"But I won't say never," she laughs.

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