Convocation, History

Convocation Profile: Paul Hagen, History

June 13, 2018

 By Christine Lyons

Paul Hagen, 68, is the oldest graduand from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to cross the convocation stage this month.

“I left school when I was 16, having failed my exams,” says Hagen, who was born in England and emigrated to Vancouver in 1979 with his wife.

“In 1966, my first job was a trainee salesman for London furniture store, Maples. By a complete fluke I was transferred to the accounts department. The manager encouraged me to retake my school exams and then to study to become a designated accountant.”

That serendipitous suggestion led to success: Hagen spent the next 44 years as an accountant, eventually becoming Vice President of Accounting for Anthem Properties before enrolling at SFU at age 56 while he was still working full-time.

While Hagen had enjoyed a successful career and has an “enquiring mind,” he says his lack of academic success early in life left him feeling “uneducated.”

That’s why he has spent the past 10 years earning credits toward a degree in history.

While one of the most challenging aspects of returning to school was fulfilling the quantitative and breadth requirements for his arts degree, he says he enjoyed all of his coursework. In particular, he says, “the most interesting era [to me] is modern and twentieth century history because it has such relevance to today's events and from around 1970 I can remember the events as they happened.”

Studying Russia and the Soviet Union with professor Ilya Vinkovetsky and modern Chinese history with professor Jeremy Brown were highlights, Hagen recalls, as was writing an assignment in HIST479W: “We had to write a unique article on the student-led, pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square and post it on Wikipedia. I never imagined that I would be doing anything like this.”

Hagen credits his academic success to his ability to set priorities and stay well-organized—skills finely-tuned over many years in the workforce.

“These are essential skills, not only for students who are in enrolled multiple courses but also when they embark on their careers.”

Paul Hagen pictured in south-western Morocco, where goats climb argan trees as tall as 10 metres high to eat their fruit and leaves.

How did studying history change him?

“It has impacted the way I think and perceive the world,” he says. “With my knowledge of history, I can place today’s events into their historical context and so make some sense of what is happening—for example, knowing the background behind current events in the Middle East.”

Post-graduation, Hagen’s commitment to lifelong learning continues. With SFU Continuing Studies classes for adults 55+, he has taken “Major Peace Treaties and Their Consequences (Europe)” and is currently enrolled in “Great Courts of Europe 1500 – 1800,” with plans to take “Major Peace Treaties and Their Consequences (Asia)” in the fall, 2018.