FEEL GOOD | It's never too late to learn: Two women in their 80s graduate at Stellenbosch University

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Antoinette Swart
Antoinette Swart
Stefan Els
  • Two women in their 80s have successfully completed their postgraduate degrees at Stellenbosch University.
  • Antoinette Swart, 83, completed her doctorate degree in ancient cultures.
  • Rosemary Lapping-Sellars, 80, received her master's degree in visual arts.

Two women in their eighties have successfully completed their postgraduate degrees at Stellenbosch University (SU) in the Western Cape.

Antoinette Swart, 83, received her doctorate degree in ancient cultures at the SU Konservatorium in Stellenbosch, and Rosemary Lapping-Sellars, 80, received her master's degree in visual arts at a virtual ceremony on Monday.

Antoinette Swart

Even though Swart's undergraduate studies focussed on botany, she decided to do her PhD in ancient cultures because of her lifelong interest in ancient history and her experience of some of it in her travels.

"After [the] completion of my master's in botany, I spent many years as a teacher or lecturer. I am very happy that after so many years, I could further my interest in the humanities and apply some of the knowledge acquired during earlier studies," Swart said.

During her PhD studies, Swart completed two self-funded trips to Persepolis, the ancient ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, in Iran to study the remains of the monuments there.

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"It was awe-inspiring and it brought the Persian empire to life. It also gave me the opportunity to photograph relevant material for my research," she said.

At the age of 83, she doesn't envisage any further formal studies.

"However, I have several projects that I would like to undertake, for example, classifying my vast shell collection," she added.

Rosemary Lapping-Sellars

Rosemary Lapping-Sellars
Rosemary Lapping-Sellars

Lapping-Sellars's master's research drew on the subjective impact of Covid-19 on our day-to-day existence and on precarious communities, according to her supervisor, Professor Elizabeth Gunter, a visual arts lecturer at SU.

"She worked mainly in clay, a medium through which she subverts the conventions of functional ceramics to reveal an embodied dialect of trauma and 'dis-ease', and of how brokenness and woundedness become part of communal identity," she said.

Lapping-Sellars said that doing her master's degree came about because of a seminal turning point in her life – when her husband, Sean Sellars, died suddenly in 2019.

"My four children all live overseas and I was, quite simply, compelled to realign the algorithm in my head. Later that year a friend came to visit and said quite bluntly, 'You have no choice but to rethink your life. Go back to study – do your master's – it will be marvellous for you.'"

For Gunter, it was humbling to supervise Lapping-Sellars' studies.

"She was a driven, energetic student, very receptive and eager to learn, and so determined to succeed that she put her fellow students to shame," she said.

Lapping-Sellars will continue to make art and exhibit her work in the public domain, with her next exhibition opening on 15 January 2022 in the Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, according to Gunter.

"She also plans to write and illustrate a book for children," she said.

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