U of T grad completes a journey that began over 50 years ago

Patrick Elo started at St. Michael's College in 1972, completed his course requirements in 2000 - and graduated this June

Patrick Elo says the education he received at U of T enriched his life and expanded his horizons (supplied image)

When Patrick Elo crossed the stage at Convocation Hall this June, it marked the culmination of a goal that he first began pursuing more than half a century ago.

The newly-minted St. Michael’s College grad started studying at the University of Toronto in 1972. In the years that followed, he moved between full-time and part-time studies before settling into a career as a men’s clothing salesman.

Recently, while trying to renew his U of T library privileges, he learned that he had completed his course requirements back in 2000 but never received his diploma. “I had completely forgot about it,” he says. The St. Michael's College Office of the Registrar confirmed he had completed the 15 courses required for a three-year Bachelor of Arts degree.

Elo says his education has expanded his horizons – and he wanted to mark the accomplishment. “My education has certainly helped me. It has enriched my ability to communicate and conversations are a little bit deeper,” he says. “I’m not [graduating] to show off or anything. It’s for personal reasons to honour what I did and the effort I made.”

Elo was 21 when he started at U of T. Having attended the Basilian-run Michael Power High School in Toronto, he felt a natural connection to St. Michael’s College, which was also founded by Basilians. However, he was unable to complete his degree in one go. “I did complete some courses in my 20s, but I was not persistent in my studies,” he says.

In the late 1980s, he returned to U of T to achieve a personal ambition of reading the texts of Homer in the original ancient Greek – a language that he held a fascination for since reading the great myths as a child. “Children’s stories are all retold Greek myths. I was attracted to the legendary world,” he says. 

Alongside his studies, he was advancing in his career as a men’s clothing salesman. “I would come down to the campus early in the morning and have breakfast in Yorkville and go to class for 9 a.m. Afterwards I would go home or go directly to work for an afternoon or evening shift," he says. “I worked at Yorkdale at the time. I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to study Greek and going to bed at midnight.” 

Elo began to excel in his studies, earning a place on the Dean’s List. In his third year, he was recognized as the top student in the Greek program. He took his final course, a fourth-year seminar course on the Athenian general Thucydides, when he was 49 years old.  

He then needed to focus his energies elsewhere: his career, buying a house and recovering from neck surgery. “When I was studying Greek, I would study sometimes for six hours without stop. My posture was so bad that it took me some years to learn how to erect myself properly and I was very reluctant to read at length,” he says. 

Nowadays, Elo continues to delve into the Greek myths that drew him back to U of T in the ‘80s, reading parts of the Iliad and Odyssey. “From time to time, I still go back to the ancient Greek and dip into it and review.”

This fall, he will travel to Italy – his first trip to Europe – and visit the ancient sites that inspired his love of the classics. He also hopes to continue his education by auditing courses.

Reflecting on his experiences as a mature student, Elo says the age gap between him and younger students was never a barrier. “You’re sharing a passion and a common interest that you’re devoting so much of your energy and your time to. It doesn’t really matter what the age is,” he says. “It was very wonderful to work with young people and to see their effort and intelligence.”  

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