For most people who earn a university degree, it comes at the beginning of their adult lives and opens the door to a career.
For Ian Mathews, receiving his arts degree from the Australian National University came in his final days and with no less than a Nobel laureate at his bedside.
On Wednesday afternoon Mr Mathews, 88, was visited at his home in Garran by ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, the 2011 Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist.
Dressed in academic robes, Professor Schmidt conferred on Mr Mathews his degree in a room full of family members with some grandchildren interstate watching via a phone.
Mr Mathews' daughter Debbie gently draped a gown and blue sash over him as he lay in a hospital bed and his son Paul placed a mortarboard on his head. In a deeply moving moment, Professor Schmidt read Mr Mathews his official conferment, handed him his degree certificate and shook his hand.
"On behalf of our community, congratulations, and the fact you were prepared to do a degree with us in the second half of your career is a true honour and privilege," Professor Schmidt said to applause.
"Thank you so much," Mr Mathews said. "It's one of those memorable days I don't think you ever forget and it really means so much to me."
Mr Mathews is a former editor and editor-in-chief of The Canberra Times. He was at the helm of the newspaper between 1972 and 1988, having entered journalism in Britain in the old way of an apprenticeship.
After retiring in 1988, he began trying to realise his ambition of a degree at the ANU. But, as they say, life got in the way and family commitments and new editing roles with the United Nations, the RSL and the Order of Australia Association kept him from his studies.
He returned to study in the past decade, traveling to the university a couple of days a week, joking to Professor Schmidt he took the bus because he couldn't find a car park.
As a very mature age student he'd always encountered kindness from academic staff.
"There was never a time when a lecturer said 'you're wrong', they always said 'have you thought this thing through?'. You learn so much, just so much, and I can never thank you enough," he said, with emotion in his voice.
Like other students, Mr Mathews was not due to receive his degree until early next year because of the impact of COVID-19. But as his health declined, his family wrote to former chancellor Gareth Evans, who swiftly made contact with university leadership.
A small ceremony was scheduled at the chancellery for next Monday, but on Wednesday, as Mr Mathews weakened, his family contacted the ANU to say he was unlikely to make it to then.
Within a matter of hours, Professor Schmidt was on his doorstep with academic gowns and a framed degree in hand, an act of generosity Mr Mathews said had completed his "wonderful journey" as a student.
Professor Schmidt spoke of the two institutions that had been so important in Mr Mathews' life.
"Within our democracies the universities and media are the two institutions that really hold the government to account long-term ... both provide accountability and understanding," Professor Schmidt said.
Despite the nature of the bedside ceremony, there was no shortage of joy in the room as well as tears.
Mr Mathews beamed as photos were taken, and recounted to laughter how he'd misunderstood his distinction grade on his first uni essay.
"I used to teach the kids that you get A, B, C and so on, but always go for A, and when I got my first essay back I got a D and I was absolutely mortified because I assumed I'd failed," he said.
He told his grandchildren that, having now received his degree, the next thing he should be doing was taking a gap year overseas.
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