Like many new first-year UBC students Bernadette Chong commutes to campus by bus, is worried about making it to classes on time and is nervous about exams.
But there is one big difference. On that bus and in her classes, 65-year-old Chong is the oldest of the 6,560 new first-year undergraduate students starting a degree this centennial year.
“I always want to learn and I want to prove to myself that I am young enough to do that,” Chong says.
The Richmond grandmother is a former accountant and retired in July. By then she’d already made up her mind to pursue the degree she has wanted for decades.
Chong was born in 1950 in Fujian Province, China, the oldest of eight children. At 16, with her youngest sibling on the way, Chong decided to help with raising her brothers and sisters instead of attending university.
So at 18 she received a diploma from the former Hong Kong Technical College and a management certificate in professional accounting from BCIT.
Marriage, two children and now three grandchildren have kept her busy, but she says she has the full support of her family to hit the books as a mature student for a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in linguistics.
“My kids are okay with it because it means I won’t be on their backs and my husband is okay with it because he knows it is useless to object!” she says with a laugh. “He is fine to be left alone during the day, so as to have fewer requests from me to get things done.”
Chong says she hopes to complete her degree in five years and use her new skills to volunteer as a translator for “older people”.
“I’ve always wanted to volunteer. Understanding language will help me understand different cultures,” she says.
She hopes her experience will encourage other seniors to stay academically active in their later years.
“I say ‘Go for it!’ Choose your passion. You never know your limits until you try,” Chong says.
Bernadette Chong is available, after class, for interviews at UBC from 2:15 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. today. To arrange an interview, please call Matthew Ramsey at UBC Public Affairs.
VIDEO: Interview with Bernadette Chong
To view extended raw video, click here
Quick facts about UBC students of 2015/16*:
- 60,652: Total student body
- 50,075 undergraduate students; 10,577 graduate students
- 47,345 domestic students; 13,307 international
- 55 per cent of students are female; 45 per cent are male
- 1,358 Aboriginal students including 313 new students
- 8,337 new first-year students
- 56 per cent of first-year students from BC; 26 per cent are international
- Youngest student starting first-year: 14 years old
- Oldest student starting first-year: 65 years old
- 6,560 first-year students at the Vancouver campus
- 1,777 first-year students at the Okanagan campus
*This information was compiled using preliminary information about the student body and is subject to change.