By Tanushi Bhatnagar
Photo credit: UBC
It was 1969 when Arthur Ross first came to UBC to pursue an undergraduate degree. That same year, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon and the University had just completed 60 years of being. Five decades later, at 71, Mr. Ross became the slowest grad to be awarded his bachelor’s degree at UBC and possibly, the world on Thursday, May 25.
“UBC’s slowest student finally graduates. I just love that idea. It has been a fun ride,” Mr. Ross jokingly said.
Mr. Ross has had quite an academic and professional journey. Starting at UBC in 1969, Mr. Ross’ discontinued his degree just after 2 years of taking general arts courses to pursue theatre when he was 19. Learning that despite his love for theatre, the life of an actor does not appeal him, he decided to go to law school in Toronto and onto a fulfilling law career.
Retiring after 35 years as a practicing lawyer, Mr. Ross decided to come back to his first alma mater to finish what he started. “It would have been a waste of me if I had not tried to carry on with learning. I am so grateful for the university for giving me the opportunity to continue to grow intellectually,” he said.
His interest in English and acting during his two years at UBC led him to partake in several productions at the Frederick Wood Theatre where he met his wife.
Some might even say that it was theatre that brought him back to UBC. Watching the 1909 German opera Elektra by Richard Strauss during a trip to Chicago, he got interested in European history and the mass mentality involved in the execution of the World Wars. Around the time of his retiring, UBC offered a course in European history in the first half of the 20th century and thus, Mr. Ross re-joined the university in January 2017. “At that point, I just got this question in my mind, and I would like to pursue it… The university was quite welcoming to someone of my vintage.”
Mr. Ross recollects that today the University is much bigger and has more people than in the 1970s. “It seems bigger [now], but it seemed big then… I was used to big,” he said. Mr. Ross recalls that the university was not exponentially different from what it is today. One building that Mr. Ross particularly remembers is the Buchanan Building where he took many of his courses both in the 1970s and now – which he says is much better equipped with learning media and assistance after the pandemic.
He also acknowledges that among the student body today there is an increased awareness about the cost of going to university. With that awareness, comes a stress that wasn’t much like the stress in the 70’s. “The stress seems to be a different force than students in the 1970s had to deal with,” he said.
He appreciates that there is a shared motivation among the student body to earn money as a student in order to pay tuition fees and living expenses but also credits the stress in today’s generation to these worries. “I may just have been blind to the stress of the students in the 1970s. I was in the fortunate position where I was not stressed.”
On the learning side of his academic career, Mr. Ross took it one course at a time. Starting in January 2017, he took one course in the fall and winter (except during the pandemic) till December 2022. “There’s not a course that I took that did not change me,” he said.
If there is one place on the campus that Mr. Ross can call his favourite, it is the Martha Piper fountain – and it’s not only because of the fountain itself. “If you look to the north, from that fountain, you see the Canadian flag [and] the rose garden with the mountains in the background, and part of English Bay. It is a spectacular view. But if you turn around from the same point and look South on the wall, you look at what I think is the most important piece of sculpture in the province of British Columbia, the Reconciliation Totem Pole,” he said.
The Reconciliation Totem Pole was carved by the Haida master carver, 7idansuu (Edenshaw) James Hart over two years and was installed at UBC in 2017 representing the history of Indigenous people in Canada before, during, and after the Indian residential school era.
Recalling the only one regret during his academic career, Mr. Ross admits that it has to do with his graduation ceremony on Thursday and UBC Chancellor Steven Point. “I thought – This is a wonderful British Columbian sitting in the Chancellor’s chair. In the five seconds I have before I went up on the stage, I’d like to nod in his direction and acknowledge that he is a significant person – When it came to my turn, I completely forgot,” he laughed.
Mr. Ross, who was present at the convocation of the class of 1985 when both his wife and Mr. Point were classmates and received their law degrees.
For now, Mr. Ross does not have any plans to return to the university or work but has an inspiring message for the students of UBC: “There will be times when you will think ‘Is this worth it? Do I really want to do this?’ I think it’s worth it. It is just worth it, to pursue it.”