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Pilgrim student Audrey Larsen back in class at age 97

By David Southwell

If you see a bright canary yellow hatchback parked near the front doors at Pilgrim Theological College there’s a good chance the 97-year-old owner is being just as conspicuous inside.

The signature car belongs to Audrey Larsen, who has enrolled as an audit student in the second semester philosophy subject Modern Self as Subject, taught by Rev Dr John Martis.

As an audit student Audrey does not have to submit essays or sit exams, but every week she attends a three-hour combined lecture and tutorial.

“I have to admit, and I don’t like admitting it, I do get tired at the end of it,” she says.

Audrey’s mantra is “while you’re alive, you’ve got to live” and she’s as good as her word, having been an audit student at Pilgrim since 2011 and enrolling in a subject every semester.

“It keeps me moving and learning something,” she says. “The people are very nice here.”

Audrey only began tertiary study after retiring from a long career as a court stenographer in 1980, but discovered she had an aptitude for academia, getting her Bachelor of Arts in 1994, and then Masters of Arts (International Relations) in 2010, aged 88. 

She was encouraged to do a PhD and considered doing a doctorate on the Middle East, but felt she couldn’t manage travel to the region. However, an academic friend recommended Pilgrim and Audrey began doing units, even though she is not religious.

“I never was a believer and I still am not a believer, but I come here because I am interested. It is history,” Audrey says.

“I am interested in the way religion has changed and what has happened and how it basically seems to be run by men!”

Audrey drives to Parkville to attend classes from her flat, she refuses to follow her “snooty friends” who insist on calling it an “apartment”, which is above a carport in North Melbourne and is only accessible by stairs.

“Most days I try to go out. I’m going to stay there while I can crawl up and down my steps,” she says.

Audrey says that her health is good and she only needs regular check-ups.

“I go to the doctor, but he doesn’t see me any more than once every six months. I simply refuse to go to him for anything else,” she said.

Audrey gave away no secrets to her longevity, but acknowledged her genes – her mother lived to 88, her father 92.

“I’m still around to annoy a neighbour now and again. If they make any noise in the apartment above me I tell them to shut up,” she says.

“However, I find that as I am getting older people are nice. They rush up to help me, but I sometimes say ‘leave me alone, back off. I will do this myself’.”

Audrey has never married or had children, something the philosophy student is philosophical about.

“I’ve had lots of opportunities,” she says. “The way my life was I don’t think it could have worked out.”

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