While many others his age are happy to sit on the verandah, soak up the sun and remember the good times, septuagenarian and former UKZN lecturer Dr Ittamar Avin instead started studying for a BA degree.
And he graduated from the University this year at the age of 77!
Avin retired at the end of 2002 after teaching in UKZN’s English department for close to 30 years but returned in 2016 aged 73 as an undergraduate student.
Avin had also served as Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Humanities from 1996 to 1998 so as lecturer and administrator he taught or had contact with thousands of students over the decades.
‘So one would think that by the time I retired that was enough and I would welcome nothing more than a sedate and conventional retirement,’ said Avin. ‘Instead I came back in 2016 as an undergraduate student. What could have prompted so incongruous a move? Some kind of Botox-mania driving an aging academic on a vain quest to recover lost youth? I hope not!’
He says two factors prompted his return. ‘First, a liking for students and a recollection of the stimulation I received from them as I endeavoured in my teaching to impart not only information but also the habit of critical, analytical thought; and second, an attraction to harvesting knowledge.’
Always a scholar at heart and curious by nature, Avin was drawn to study a variety of disciplines at several universities, both in South Africa and overseas. UKZN is the ninth institution of higher learning he has studied at, and graduating from the Institution marks his farewell to a life trajectory that has proved highly rewarding. The next stop, he says, is conventional retirement!
Seeking to reduce a gap in his knowledge that had long troubled him, Avin decided to make Classics his focus when he returned to UKZN. ‘My area of specialisation as an academic had been the literature of the 17th and 18th centuries, a literature profoundly influenced, in England – as elsewhere in Europe – by the literary legacy of Ancient Greece and Rome,’ he said. ‘To be aware of this legacy while being denied access to its riches in the source languages, was something that irked me all the way through my teaching career so when I came back in 2016 I signed up for Latin and Greek. By then, of course, I was long retired so what motivated me was a purely personal motive: I wanted, in some measure, to make good the deficiency that for so many years had weighed upon me.’
Avin gave up Greek after the first year but continued with Latin, majoring in it. ‘I loved Latin, not only in and for itself, but also because I enjoyed the rare privilege of studying it under remarkably favourable conditions – in small classes where added to the luxury of individual attention was being in the company of classmates of outstanding ability,’ he said. ‘The kind of student classical languages attracts these days is typically exceptionally motivated, diligent and able. That aside, my fellow students were willing to put up with the idiosyncrasies of a classroom presence old enough to be their grandfather. I shall long treasure memories of their kindness and forbearance.’
Avin hopes his example will encourage others of a similar age to decide one is never too old to try something different, never too old to taste the excitement generated by the pursuit of knowledge, never too old to reap its rewards.