Sharing the joy of learning

At 91 years old, Joy Leslie Gibson has completed five degrees and is currently one of the UK’s oldest students, working on her PhD at the Shakespeare Institute. She is proof you are never too old to learn…

After a whirlwind career writing about theatre, fashion and beauty, Joy Leslie Gibson (MPhil (Art) Shakespeare Studies, 1994; MLitt Shakespeare Institute, 2006) decided to study for her first degree at age 57. 

Encouraged by her mother and having always been disappointed that she hadn't been able to attend University after the war because her place was given to a returning serviceman, Joy's passion for higher education began. 

Growing up during the Second World War, Joy studied for her High School Certificate in an air raid shelter and developed a passion for writing, the theatre and Shakespeare at a young age. Her first trip to the theatre was at three years old and by 19 she had seen Hamlet three times.

'I've always been interested in the theatre, it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,' she remembers. After receiving diplomas in drama she taught for a short time, joined a women's magazine as fashion editor and then took to freelancing. Along the way she interviewed Shakespearean actor Dame Judi Dench (a Shakespeare Institute Honorary Fellow herself), wrote a biography of Sir Ian McKellen and credits her best interview as Alfred Hitchcock. 

On her retirement, Joy first started studying for an MA at Sussex and throughout all six degrees to follow, the common thread has been her passion for Shakespeare. 

'It was just such fun doing the first degree so I decided to go on… when you have to cease going to work, the days seem really long. I have always written all my life, even as a small child.

'It's the humanity of Shakespeare that I find so interesting, you can see Shakespeare characters in everyday life. That is really what interests me,' she says. 

Currently Joy is writing her PhD at the University’s Shakespeare Institute on forgiveness and repentance in Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights' works. She wakes up every morning and gets started right away writing or spending time in the library. Between essays she immerses herself in the world of theatre, directing and taking part in several plays, working backstage and in the box office. 

Joy says: 'The appeal of studying at the Shakespeare Institute is the staff, they are the best Shakespearean scholars around. I meet students from all over the world and you get different views about Shakespeare.'

It's studying that Joy credits with keeping her mind alive and believes doing it later in life has the additional benefits of having more experience, a greater understanding of people and a background of knowledge. 

For anyone considering it she says: 'My top tip is to choose a subject you are passionate about and really go for it and work hard. Studying for these degrees has brought me the shared joy of learning new things and it's been great fun.'

Joy’s six degrees of education 

• BA Philosophy, University of North London 

• MA Renaissance Studies, Sussex 

• MPhil Shakespeare Studies, University of Birmingham

• MPhil Shakespeare in Small Spaces, Middlesex University

• MLitt Elizabethan costume, University of Birmingham

• Currently completing her PhD at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute

​Competition time! 

Who does Joy credit as her best interview? Enter here for your chance to win £100 in theatre tokens.

Competition closes: 30 June 2018

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