Graduating student with Alzheimer's thankful for support
October 18, 2022
Ron Robert will cross something off his bucket list as he crosses the stage, with 120 other King’s students, as part of the Fall Convocation on October 19, 2022. He admits he is “really nervous” about taking part in Convocation, “but that was part of my bucket list – to cross the stage with the other graduates.”
He adds that he is looking forward to speaking with many of his classmates at Convocation. “Some of them, I haven’t seen in two years (due to the pandemic),” he says.
Robert will be graduating with a three-year Bachelor of Arts Major in Cross Disciplinary Studies.
Robert, 84, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016. He decided to go back to school to keep his brain stimulated to fight the effects of the disease, a journey that led him to King’s in 2018.
“It means a lot! I am really pleased,” Robert says about graduating. He likens his experience to a team project, one that involved not only himself and his family, but King’s as a whole, including faculty, the ITS department and Accessibility, Counselling and Student Development (ACSD). “Without all of their help, I never would have been able to graduate. They all pitched in and went above and beyond the call of duty,” he says.
Robert says that coming to King’s has helped keep the effects of Alzheimer’s at bay. “I wouldn’t have the quality of life I have if I hadn’t come to King’s. It gave me something to aim for. It keeps my brain working,” he says. Robert explains that while he has trouble with his short-term memory, his long-term memory remains excellent. Taking political science courses has helped, allowing him to remember events he covered during a 20-year career as a radio and television journalist in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Robert has praise for many faculty members who were very cooperative and helpful. “They were tremendous. They seemed to have a knack for pulling information out of me.” He developed good relationships with Dr. Graham Broad, Associate Professor and Chair of History, and Dr. Andrea Lawlor, Associate Professor of Political Science.
“Working with Ron has been the privilege of a lifetime. It’s so rare to meet a person with so much experience in the field that you’re teaching, coupled with a willingness to share his experiences with the students. I would lecture on the constitution, but Ron was quite literally in the corridors of power where and when it was being negotiated. While I provided the theory and the context, Ron could share such fascinating insights into the negotiations and personalities behind these momentous events. Ron’s experiences transcend so many areas of politics – he could teach a master class in the subject. Still, he is unfailingly, kind, humble and generous with the students,” says Dr. Lawlor.
In addition to his studies at King’s, Robert also became part of the Alzheimer Society’s continuing nationwide campaign “Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand.” in 2019. He spoke several times at Western, including at Western’s School of Occupational Therapy’s 12th Annual Profession Pinning Ceremony and the Schulich School of Medicine’s Geriatric Interest Group.
Carol Walters, CEO, Alzheimer Society Southwest Partners - Elgin Middlesex and Oxford, offers her congratulations to Robert on “truly an inspirational accomplishment.”
“Through his studies at King’s and his dementia advocacy work, he has helped reshape the common (and often problematic) views around Alzheimer’s. Despite the challenges the disease may present over time, he is living his life to the fullest degree possible. And through his academic work among his student colleagues, he has broken through the ageism wall with his courage, openness, and sharing of his valuable life experiences,” says Walters.
Robert has always expressed his appreciation for the accessibility services available at King’s. “The accessibility (at King’s) is fantastic. I certainly couldn't do it without the aid of Accessibility Services and they do it so willingly, it's wonderful,” he said in a story published in September 2018.
“Our innovative team in Accessibility, Counselling and Student Development is committed to providing a holistic support in partnership with students and faculty, so that every student has the opportunity to flourish within in the unique academic experience we provide at King’s,” says Joe Henry, Dean of Students.
During his time on campus at King’s, Robert could often be found chatting with students, faculty, and staff in the cafeteria. He had previously mentioned that the social aspect of his academic experience “keeps me going.”
“Ron’s been a wonderful addition to our campus. Always positive, Ron brightens up the day of everyone he interacts with. He engages in class discussions, contributing unique perspectives from a lifetime of experience. Ron takes time to connect with and support other students and is always willing to offer some wisdom to those in need,” says Paul Wilton, ’07, Associate Registrar in Enrolment Services, who has worked closely with Robert.
“It was really great being with the young people. This generation is the one we've been waiting for. We need them more than ever,” he says. The current generation reminds Robert of the 1960s, which saw great demonstrations for civil and gender rights and against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Robert characterizes students as “very kind and caring.”
If you missed connecting with Robert over the past four years, you may still have a chance to as Ron intends to continue taking courses this year. “After that, I am thinking about going for my master’s,” he reveals.
Congratulations to Ron Robert and all of our students who will be crossing the stage at Western’s Alumni Hall during Fall Convocation.
Read more about Ron Robert:
- Inspiring and inspired mature student and advocate for Living with Alzheimer’s - September 14, 2018
- Student making headlines as Alzheimer’s spokesperson - January 24, 2019
- “I see such a great future for our country.” - October 4, 2019
- King’s student Ron Robert speaks to Schulich class - November 21, 2019
- “Don’t just sit there and worry!” - December 4, 2020
- CBC Afternoon Drive with Allison Devereaux - October 17, 2022
- CBC News: This 84-year-old London, Ont., man used university to fight Alzheimer's - October 18, 2022
- The London Free Press: 'I can fight this': Senior battling Alzheimer's set to graduate with degree - October 19, 2022
- CTV News: 'A wonderful feeling': 84-year-old Canadian with Alzheimer's graduates from university - October 19, 2022
- CTV News: 'His mind is sharp': 84-year-old staving off Alzheimer's with education - October 19, 2022
- CBC London: Western University grads walk the stage for 1st in-person fall convocation since 2019 - October 20, 2022
- Western Gazette: Alzheimer's advocate graduates from Western at 84 - October 26, 2022
- The Catholic Register - Treating Alzheimer's as a matter of degree - November 10, 2022
Update: January 5, 2023 - Everything Zoomer named Ron's story as one of their 10 favourite Feel-Good Stories from 2022.