By Guglielmo Mangiapane and Antonio Parrinello



a man sitting at a table: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96



a group of people posing for the camera: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) – At 96, Giuseppe Paterno has faced many tests in life – childhood poverty, war and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic. Now he has sailed through an exam that makes him Italy’s oldest university graduate.



a man sitting in front of a laptop computer: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

This week, the former railway worker stepped forward to receive his diploma and the traditional laurel wreath awarded to Italian students when they graduate, applauded by his family, teachers and fellow students more than 70 years his junior.



a man wearing a suit and tie: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“I am a normal person, like many others,” he said, when asked what it felt like to be graduating so late. “In terms of age I have surpassed all the others but I didn’t do it for this.”



a man holding a wine glass: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

Already in his 90s when he enrolled for a degree in History and Philosophy at the University of Palermo, Paterno grew up loving books, but he never had the chance to study.



a man and a woman standing in a room: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“I said, ‘that’s it, now or never,’ and so in 2017, I decided to enrol,” he told Reuters in his apartment in the Sicilian city of Palermo, which he rarely leaves nowadays due to his frailty.



a man standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“I understood that it was a little late to get a three-year degree but I said to myself ‘let’s see if I can do it’.”



a person standing in front of a door: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

On Wednesday, he graduated first in his class with top honours, receiving congratulations from the university chancellor Fabrizio Micari.



a man wearing a hat: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

GREAT DEPRESSION, THEN WAR



a book sitting on top of a bookshelf: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

Growing up in a poor family in Sicily in the years before the Great Depression, Paterno received only basic schooling as a child. He joined the navy and served during World War Two before going on to work in the railways as he married and brought up two children.



a person sitting at a table: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

In a society focused on rebuilding after the war, work and family were the priorities, but Paterno wanted to learn and graduated from high school at the age of 31, always harbouring a desire to go further.



The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“Knowledge is like a suitcase that I carry with me, it is a treasure,” he said.



a group of people sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

As a student, he tapped out his essays on the manual typewriter his mother gave him when he retired from the railways in 1984. He eschewed Google in favour of printed books and was not tempted by the late-night student parties of his 20-year-old classmates, who applauded him warmly at the graduation ceremony.



a person standing in a room: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“You are an example for younger students,” his Sociology professor, Francesca Rizzuto, told him after he passed his final oral examination in June.



a man in glasses looking at the camera: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

Paterno confessed to a little unease with the video calls that replaced classroom teaching during the coronavirus shutdown, but said he was not put off by the disease itself after the war and everything else he had been through.



a bunch of items that are sitting on a table: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“All of that strengthened us, all of my peer group, all of those who are still alive,” he said. “It didn’t really scare us that much.”



a screenshot of a cell phone: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

As for what he planned to do next, he said he was not about to stop now he had graduated.



The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


© Reuters / GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE
The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

“My project for the future is to devote myself to writing; I want to revisit all the texts I didn’t have a chance to explore further. This is my goal.”



a view of a tall building: The Wider Image: Meet Italy's oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96


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The Wider Image: Meet Italy’s oldest student, surviving WW2 and a pandemic to graduate at 96

(Additional reporting by Emily Roe and Wladimiro Pantaleone; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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