At 81, Xue Minxiu just created her own never-too-old-to-learn legend, earning a bachelor's degree in e-commerce from Tianjin University recently.
She had been struggling toward her goal with painstaking effort for years.
"For me, the meaning of life is to constantly challenge and improve myself. I want to thank the university for giving me a chance to fulfil a childhood dream," Xue said on behalf of all the graduates in a speech at Sunday's graduation ceremony.
Studying at the university has been her life's ambition, but it was not realised until she reached her senior years.
In 1957, Xue took the College Entrance Examination and was admitted to Northwest University. At the time, she was working as a nurse at a sanatorium in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, following her studies at a vocational school.
But she never attended the university because the sanatorium refused to let her go due to poor staffing. This remained her lifelong regret.
In 2001, when age restrictions－with the maximum of 25－were dropped from the entrance exam, Xue decided to continue her university dream. To prepare for undergraduate courses, she registered for e-commerce courses at an open university.
Xue, who said she has a passion for learning, then took the exam in 2013, but failed to meet the minimum admission requirement. She then registered for the e-commerce undergraduate course in distance education at Tianjin University in March 2014－at 77 years old. There was no time or place limit for the courses. She learned online and went to the university to take exams regularly.
Although the oldest student among her classmates, she remained the most studious, teachers said.
Getting up at 5 am every day, the first thing she did was to turn on her computer and study before breakfast. When she was free during the daytime, she studied at home or took some books to a nearby park.
Never married, Xue lives alone and said she does not invite people to her home in Tianjin because her books are piled up in her apartment.
She said the television in her home has not been switched on for four years because she thought she could instead use the time to study.
Zhang Jun, an instructor at Tianjin University, said Xue is the most hardworking student she has ever met and was one of the top students in her class.
"She went to our office frequently because she often encounters computer problems in using the online course system, and she respected teachers by insisting on standing when we explained things to her," said Zhang.
"She has good grades in most courses except the computer. She tried six times before passing the course in December 2017 and then finally received her degree," Zhang said.
"Studying makes me happy, and it is always rewarding," Xue said.
"Despite all the hardship I experienced during the past years, I gained wisdom from the setbacks and became tougher. One can only really know oneself when adversity comes," she said.
Xue speaks four foreign languages－English, French, Russian and Latin－all learned by self instruction, and she is fond of photography, skating and swimming at her spare time.
"Life is limited, I want to truly and fully live my life. I want to break the stereotype and remain true to my heart. Having the courage to keep going one's own way is important," she said.