Oct 18, 2021

Victorian woman completes criminal law degree aged 75: “It’s never too late”

75 year old law student
Photo courtesy of Victoria University: Joan Oliver earns law degree aged 75.

Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t happy about it.

“I didn’t want to leave school,” Oliver told The Guardian

“For some reason l liked school. I always wanted to do more. I figured there had to be more to life than this.”

But Oliver’s mother had other plans.

When she was 14, Oliver learnt how to type and went to work in the office of a Melbourne construction company.

At 18 she married and two sons soon followed. Work and family became the centre of Oliver’s life and education fell by the wayside.

In 2000, Oliver’s husband became unwell and was not expected to live long. The two left their jobs and set off on a trip around Australia. When that was cut short after Oliver hurt her neck, she had to find a new purpose.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with myself now? Let’s go back to school,’” she told The Guardian.

Oliver was 68 when she went back to complete her Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE).

“I was absolutely terrified,” she admitted.

With the oldest of her fellow students only 20, Oliver at first worried she’d made the wrong decision. But over time she got to know the students and even came to admire them.

“I taught them things, they taught me things,” she said.

Oliver decided to study Criminal Justice, and it was during this course that lecturer Stella Pardalis saw her potential and encouraged her to enrol in law.

“She’s so quick and so on the ball – she’s just amazing,” said Pardalis.

Pardalis is now encouraging Oliver to complete her six-month Practical Legal Training so she can practice.

But Oliver admits to being concerned that “ageism” will make it difficult for her to find work as a lawyer. Instead, she would like to volunteer at a legal centre that specialises in domestic violence.

But Pardalis insists the legal profession “needs people” like Oliver.

Oliver told The Guardian she sometimes wonders what she could have achieved had she studied law earlier, but says it’s never too late to pursue a career change.

“Life’s too short to be wondering, ‘What if?’,” she said.

“It’s never too late.”

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  1. Huge congratulations!! I’m almost your age & trained as a nurse in the 1960’s. I started Uni at 40..continued nursing… have 4 degrees and cannot stop studying. I am a nurse/writer and love it.


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