Maynooth University has conferred its oldest graduate of the Class of 2023 -- and at 86 years one of the oldest ever graduates in Ireland – in summer conferring ceremonies.
Phil Devitt, 86 years, was awarded a BA in Community Studies surrounded by her family, friends and course lecturers at an event hosted in the TSI Building on North Campus.
The co-founder of the highly successful Newlands Gardening Centre pursued a Return to Learning course at Maynooth University some years ago, and later opted for a degree course committing to four years of study.
Having travelled and worked with her husband of 56 years, Phil explained her motivation to apply to university for the first time after he died six years ago.
“Sadly Mike passed away in July 2017 and my life took a different path. I was living alone, and decided to go to Maynooth to meet new friends and get out of my comfort zone,” she said.
“From my studies, I met great lecturers and made wonderful friends. I did classes at night and the other students were great and walked me to and from my car on dark evenings. They were extremely kind and I enjoyed every moment.”
Her studies kept her mind occupied and focused, particularly during Covid, she added. “If there’s a little message to anyone it’s that every day you can learn something, and age is only a number,” she said.
Maynooth University President, Professor Eeva Leinonen paid tribute to Phil Devitt on receiving her BA in Community Studies, and congratulated all graduates conferred this week as they embark on their new journey.
“I am delighted to pay special tribute to Phil Devitt on her remarkable achievement of a BA in Community Studies. She is a true inspiration in showing us the way forward by embracing the challenges and rewards of lifelong learning and education,” Professor Leinonen said.
“I congratulate all our new graduates on their success in reaching this significant milestone. Such accomplishments in our lives are occasions to reflect and to celebrate. Your achievements are to be cherished and applauded and I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours.”
Over three days, some 2,028 undergraduates will be awarded parchments, along with 226 receiving master’s degrees, 73 diplomas, and 30 doctorates.
Attending the conferring ceremony on Wednesday were Phil’s daughters Marie Kennedy and Denise Evans, son Tomás and other family members including grandchildren.
Describing her mother as kind to everyone, Marie described her mother’s example as an inspiration, spurring her grandson’s return to university to study engineering as a mature student.
“She didn’t have an opportunity to go to college when she was a young person and she was adamant that her children would,” Marie said.
Her family members are no strangers to university life, as Phil’s niece, Dr Jackie Nugent is a biology lecturer at Maynooth University and was also very encouraging of her aunt’s studies.
Dr Derek Barter, Co-Ordinator of Continuing Education Programmes at Maynooth University said: “Phil exemplifies the real meaning of Lifelong Learning. She’s been an inspiration to all of us lucky enough to have taught her and is one of the reasons Adult Education is so valuable and rewarding.”