As he turns 85 next month, Robert plans to pursue a master’s degree and research ways of living better with Alzheimer's disease.
Over the past four years, Ron Robert has taken more than 30 courses on history, political science and cross-disciplinary studies at King's University College in London, Ontario, Canada. His dedication and hard work finally bore fruit this week when the 84-year-old graduated with a bachelor’s degree even as he battles early-stage Alzheimer's disease. According to CTV News, Robert—a former reporter who later worked in Ottawa with prime minister Pierre Trudeau—was diagnosed with the brain disorder in 2015. He explained that his decision to enroll in university was "a personal experiment that has succeeded by setting an example."
"It's such a wonderful feeling," the graduate said. "It gives a lot of people hope that they can live they can still live a good life with Alzheimer's. There will come a time when I won't be able to, and I fully expect that. But in the meantime, I'm living a full life." Although his condition has worsened over the course of the last four years, Robert believes keeping himself engaged with regular mental challenges may have helped slow the deterioration. "My short-term memory is terrible... but my long-term memory is not bad. It's actually improved," he said.
“I wouldn’t have the quality of life I have if I hadn’t come to King’s. It gave me something to aim for. It keeps my brain working,” Ron Robert, #MatureStudent with Alzheimer’s, will cross the stage during Fall Convocation. #APlaceToBecome @AlzCanada https://t.co/u5nPzubSOE— King's at Western (@KingsAtWestern) October 14, 2022
Robert's wife, Catherine Cornelius, revealed that her husband persevered through the course despite his medical condition. "He worked hard," she said. "I definitely believe that his focus on his studies stopped his Alzheimer's from progressing." In 2019, Robert addressed a group of first- and second-year medical students on campus, sharing what it's like to live with memory loss. "I want them to be more patient, to give them advice on how to live with Alzheimer's," he said at the time. While speaking to them, Robert stressed the importance of being sensitive with patients and of viewing them as people with individual needs and not just a set of illnesses.
A special day of celebrating new @KingsAtWestern grads including the inspirational Ron Robert, 84 years young and living with Alzheimer’s. He inspires lifelong learning! It was an emotional moment when he crossed the stage @WesternU Congratulations Ron and all the new alumni! pic.twitter.com/LpSESG5XAe— Jane Antoniak (@keego1) October 19, 2022
"You have no idea how much of an effect you have," Robert told the students. "When you're dealing with this kind of thing as doctors, two keywords are kindness and patience." Now, he credits his teachers for empowering him to graduate by adapting their classes to help him remember information and recording the lectures so he could listen to them multiple times. "I think Ron is the living embodiment of the phrase 'don't judge a book by its cover,' or perhaps, don't assume someone cannot [do something] simply because of a diagnosis," said one of Robert's professors, Jeff Preston.
It’s not everyday I get to congratulate a graduate older than me! At 84 years old, Ron Robert truly embodies what it means to be a lifelong learner & what makes @KingsAtWestern #APlaceToBecome. Congratulations Ron & to all our grads who crossed the stage @ Fall Convocation today! pic.twitter.com/Bb2q1nmjnz— King's President (@KingsPres) October 19, 2022
"We have this perception that people with disabilities like Alzheimer's are wholly incapable. I think what Ron has shown is that all sorts of people can succeed in a university classroom when provided with the right environment and supports to nurture success," Preston added. Walking across the graduation stage this week was the fulfillment of a 60-year-old dream for Robert as he'd always wanted to attend university. However, life took a different turn and he had a 20-year career as a radio and television journalist in Saskatchewan and Alberta and worked as a political aide to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. As he turns 85 next month, Robert plans to pursue a master’s degree and research ways of living better with Alzheimer's disease, using his own experience as a model for others.