Advanced learning took on a whole new meaning at Mumbai University’s convocation. Marking a new academic trend, this year’s audience saw several retired professionals well over the age of 70 who were cheering vigorously not for their children or grandchildren, but themselves, as they accepted their PhD certificates with great pride.

For 78-year-old Kokila Shah, education has been a lifelong pursuit, interrupted only by the demands of family life and a battle against cancer that began in 1996. The senior citizen, who collected her PhD in Philosophy, said, “I am a lifelong learner. Age is just a number and the human body is perishable, but what defines us is knowledge.”

The Prabhadevi resident hails from Gujarat, where she had completed her Bachelors degree and was even teaching before she moved to Mumbai after marriage.

“After coming to Mumbai, I got busy with family life and health, but when I turned 40, I took admission at SNDT University for an MA in Gujarati literature. This was like a joke for many, since my son was appearing for Std X examinations the same year. But I was not deterred; cancer has taught me that will power can take one to places never imagined,” said Kokila, who is now a guest lecturer at SNDT college and also writes for Gujarati publications.

On the other hand, Sudhakar Fadke (79) has had intermittent links to academics. After this Thane resident cleared Std XII, he became a skilled labourer but retained a desire for further education. “I got my Bachelors degree in Marathi literature while I was still working. Then there was a gap of 10 years before I completed my Masters in the same subject. But it was only after retirement that I thought of pursuing a PhD. I have been working on my research for nine years, said the 79-year-old, whose research focused on how theatre has affected social problems and changes over time. “I fell in love with education and was obsessed with pursuing more and higher degrees. Knowledge is something for which one cannot set a limit,” he said.

For Arun Kshirsagar (70), a PhD is the highest achievement in education. While he worked in senior positions in the healthcare industry for many years after finishing his MBA, he had set his sights on a PhD long ago.

“I am still working as it keeps me on my toes. In my entire career, I have always been in touch with education in terms of working with different institutes, as industry academia linkage is very important. This increased my interest in education,” said Kshirsagar who is now the proud holder of a PhD in Economics, after researching micro-finance for underprivileged women.