At 93 and on quest to become Korea's oldest Ph.D. grad
Ninety-three years old and still chasing his dreams, Kwon No-gab, the chairman of the Kim Dae-jung Foundation and adviser to the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, recently attended his first class as an English Literature doctoral student.
He said he aims to complete his dissertation by the time he turns 95 in two years' time, an ambitious goal for any doctorate pursuant. The record for the oldest Korean to earn a Ph.D. is held by Lee Sang-suk, who obtained the degree at the age of 92 earlier this year.
The subject of Kwon's dissertation has already been set The man who was a giant in South Korean politics, a democracy fighter, the architect of the “Sunshine Policy” toward North Korea, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and his dear mentor, comrade, “family” and lifelong idol: the late President Kim Dae-jung.
“My goal is that I’d devote myself to President Kim until the very end. Without him, I never would have lived (my) life like this, to be commended with a human rights award, to be celebrated in front of people in the US,” said Kwon, in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
In 2023's Korea, as well as among aspiring political leaders worldwide, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the life of the late leader, he continued, adding that he hopes that his doctoral research can contribute to disseminating Kim's ideas.
Boxing, English and Kim Dae-jung
Sporting a polished look with neatly combed back hair and perfectly fitted suit, Kwon commands the room when he speaks, leading the conversation like a politician or CEO at the prime of his career.
"Retired? No, I've never retired. My day is just as busy as usual," he quipped in response to a question about how long he has been in retirement.
“I work out three times a week, go to school twice a week. I get up at 7:30 in the morning and I go to bed at midnight. And I watch all the news,” said Kwon, who has been in politics for the bulk of his career.
At Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, he shares a classroom with students young enough to be his grandchildren -- many considerably younger.
“It is fun,” he said, although there’s a lot to read. He drinks coffee and stays up late to prepare for class.
English has long been his passion, although the path of his life never truly allowed him to pursue it as much as he wished. It may be this unfulfilled desire that kept him coming back to English later in life, he said.
In 2013, at age 83, he earned a master's in English Literature from the same university and had briefly enrolled at a doctorate course at Dongguk University, where he completed his undergraduate studies more than half a century ago.
In his formative years, Kwon wished to be a boxing champion.
He trained, sacrificing school grades, with his eyes set on representing the recently liberated country at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. He won the provincial round in the national player selection process, but ultimately failed to secure a spot in the Olympic squad.