This article was originally published in the Spring 2012 Calendar. Below, Ray updates us on what he's been doing since then...

Since joining Continuing Studies, I have received my diploma and I am now pursuing a BA, majoring in History with a minor in Germanic Studies. In 2012, I was a participant in the I Witness Holocaust Field School project, which travelled to Europe to study the way that the Holocaust has been memorialized. I can honestly say that this was a pivotal moment in my life as I have since been involved with the UVic Holocaust Archival Program, the newly-formed School's Outreach Program, and as a performer in IdeaFest. As well, I've given two presentations on Holocaust-related subjects.

2012 calendar article

Talking to Ray Illsley in the main concourse of the McPherson Library at UVic is almost like chatting to him in his own living room at home. He is relaxed, but radiates an energy that one senses comes from being in the midst of an environment that suits him.

“I just love being at university,” he enthuses.

“Honestly, when I first started thinking about taking more education courses, having retired from a long career as a chef, it was for the possible health benefits—lessening the chances of Alzheimer’s and so on. But I soon realized that I was really just picking up the threads of something that I’d been doing all along—looking for the answers to some of the big questions in history and in life.”

His enthusiasm for history is infectious. “I’ve always been fascinated by history and love reading about it. This program is tying in all the events and facts for me—all the whys and the wherefores—and giving me the ability to delve deeper for more profound insight into why things happened the way they did.”

I think everyone who is lucky enough to be here, whatever their age, should really appreciate that fact and use the time well.
- Ray Illsley, Humanities Diploma

Being older than some of the professors who teach the courses he is taking doesn’t deter him at all. “Sometimes they throw out a reference that they know I’ll get, but no one else will,” he says with a wry smile.

“My attention span may even be longer than some of the younger students here and that gives me some advantage when doing a lot of reading. It may actually be something that older people, not so completely immersed in the online world, handle better.”

Our conversation was frequently interrupted by people on their way to and from classes, greeting Ray, at least one going off with some much needed encouragement from him about getting on with an assignment.

“The energy here is great, really positive,” he says. “I think everyone who is lucky enough to be here, whatever their age, should really appreciate that fact and use the time well.”

Ray started in the program at the beginning of 2011 and is working his way through courses that include 20th-century history and subjects such as World War II and Yiddish language and culture. He is also doing a course on academic reading and writing, which he says is challenging, but just as rewarding in the way it is helping him organize his own ideas.

Ray plans to finish the Humanities Diploma and then go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in history.

His family, which includes two teenage children still at home, are very supportive of his passion for the university life.

“My wife, who is a university grad, is always telling me I’m smarter than I think I am. I actually felt quite lost this summer during the period when I had no course to attend. Everyone else was enjoying the break, but I couldn’t wait to get back to classes.”

  • Posted March 21, 2015