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Kennesaw State student earns master’s degree at 85 After finishing bachelor’s at 81,…

Georgia (Dec 14, 2011)

Kennesaw State student earns master’s degree at 85

After finishing bachelor’s at 81, Arthur Harris went on to grad school

Arthur Harris has spent most of his eighties hitting the books and writing papers. At 81, he completed a bachelor’s degree in English at Kennesaw State. Now, four years later, Harris, 85, has earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing, again at Kennesaw State. This week, the university’s oldest graduate took part in fall commencement ceremonies along with 1,602 other students.

“I originally signed up for a certificate program but I switched over to the master’s program,” Harris says. “The certificate wasn’t enough. I wanted to set a higher goal.”

Harris, co-founder of Spa Sydell, loved attending grad school. He pursued the creative-writing track, taking courses in playwriting, fiction, speechwriting and review writing. He drove himself to the Kennesaw State campus once a week, sitting in class from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m., and spent at least another six hours each week doing homework and writing on his laptop at home.  The toughest part, he says, was doing research. His favorite part: workshops, where he read from his work and classmates offered feedback.

“I like to show off,” he says. “I like public speaking.”

His KSU professors describe Harris as an engaged and enthusiastic student, who always arrived to class on time. “He has opinions that he will share and spice up a classroom,” said associate professor of  English Beth Giddens, his thesis co-adviser. “He doesn’t let things go dull. He was very present, not a wallflower.”

For his master’s thesis, Harris wrote a memoir. “We require about 100 pages for a thesis,” said creative writing professor Tony Grooms, who served as Harris’ thesis co-adviser.  “He wrote 300.”

The memoir, titled “Love Everlasting,” chronicles his love story with Sydell, his wife of 62 years. Harris uses alliteration in his dedication to his wife, describing her as “the pulchritudinous protagonist of this ponderous personal portrayal.” The story begins when they met on snow-covered Fenton Avenue in the Bronx 68 years ago.  He was16. She was 15. He was taken by her auburn hair, her blue eyes and the freckles on her nose. He proposed on the subway while out on their first date.

“It starts off with our meeting,” Harris recalls. “In our first encounter, I washed her face with snow.”

The story, told with touches of humor across 17 chapters, features their long courtship, their wedding night at a hotel in Times Square, the love letter he wrote to Sydell when their first child was born, and their 58th wedding anniversary in Montepulciano, Italy, while Harris was doing a study-abroad program as a KSU undergrad five years ago.  Along the way, the couple founded Spa Sydell and turned it into a successful business.

Harris admits he spent most of the time on his thesis rewriting what he wrote. “I found that I enjoy rewriting, something that I never did before,” he says. “Now I understand the value of rewriting and self-editing.”

Before he started college in his late seventies, his writing experience was limited to writing ad copy and manuals for Spa Sydell. Harris was able to keep up with the master’s program and finished it in three years. He wears hearing aids and glasses and is proficient in Word. “He was very serious about his studies and there were times when he was tense,” says his wife.

She calls his memoir “formidable.”

Though Harris says he can’t do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle anymore, he reads voraciously. He prefers BusinessWeek magazine, biographies and fiction. “A little Dante, a little Proust, a little Twain,” says Harris, who recently read the bestseller “The Help.”

Harris, who walks regularly and does four sets of 10 push ups, knows he wants to continue writing. For now he is rewriting and polishing his memoir to get it in shape for publication. He also wants to write a book focusing on shorter time periods “a la Neil Simon.”

Harris would also like to teach, and he may even go for a Master of Fine Arts or a Ph.D. He is always looking for “another mountain to climb.”

“I firmly believe that seniors should keep their minds exercised and involved in learning new things,” Harris says.

Harris, who procrastinated going to college until after he retired, has enjoyed going to school in his eighties.

“It’s never too late,” he says. “The idea is just not to live long; the idea is to live healthy. My longevity goal is 98, when Sydell and I will celebrate our 75th wedding anniversary. After that I have no aspirations.”


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­­--- By Aixa M.  Pascual









A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit