A 69-year-old bicycle repairman from south-central Vietnam last month received a bachelor’s degree in law, fulfilling his burning dream of achieving the certification to the astonishment of many people.
Hoang Tien Mai has been lately busy with welcoming guests to his own house in Tuy Hoa, the capital city of coastal Phu Yen Province.
They came to congratulate Mai on obtaining the Bachelor of Laws in early October and also to express their surprise at and admiration for the success of a man who dropped out of college halfway but has aspired to legal knowledge ever since.
Mai recalled that after he lost his father at five, his mother began fixing bicycles to provide for the family.
While the mother tried to pay her son through college, her meager earnings and sickliness forced him to leave school when he was going to become a sophomore.
Mai then took up bicycle repair, but entertained a back-to-school hope.
At 42, he applied to part-time undergraduate law courses but the enrollment was rejected as the program was for government officials working in law only.
It was only 23 years later, in 2014, when he secured an opportunity to follow a distance learning law program offered by Hue University in central Vietnam.
It came to the then-65-year-old man as joyful news.
“The day I got the admission notice, I felt the delight of a boy who had been given a gift,” Mai recollected.
His family, who was in the complete dark about his application, was stunned by the decision he was about to make.
“I told my family I was going to close the repair shop over the weekend to attend classes. But my wife, children and friends didn’t believe in what I said at all,” he said.
|Hoang Tien Mai holds his law degree in his house in Phu Yen Province, south-central Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre
“And they had the bigger doubt that I could graduate as an old man.”
Mai usually studied at home after fixing bicycles on weekdays.
On the weekend, he went to school after removing oil from his hands to make sure that he would not become embarrassed in the classroom.
His course mates, most of whom were civil servants handling legal matters, mistook him for an official when they first met him.
“Many asked me what government agency I was working for and why I was in the classroom at such an old age. I eventually told them I’m just a bicycle repairman who likes to study. That’s all,” he said.
After four academic years, Mai graduated with a result of roughly C+, or a GPA of around 2.3 on the 4.0 scale.
“The dream I had nurtured since 1972 finally came true,” he said, referring to the year he first entered college.
The motivation behind all his effort is the desire for knowledge.
“A scholar said what we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean,” Mai said, quoting a statement credited to renowned English physicist Isaac Newton.
“That’s why,” he continued, “I study to acquire knowledge myself first, then set a good example to my children and grandchildren and help people who aren’t or haven’t been educated.”
For days ahead, Mai will take courses on training workers for courts but he does not wish to become a lawyer in his seventies.
The man hopes to give legal advice to poor people and the underdogs, and seek justice for them.