Ingeborg Rapoport, a 102-year-old retired neonatologist, is about to become the oldest person ever to receive a doctoral degree. Already impressive—but adding more intrigue to this story is the fact that Rapoport submitted her thesis on diphtheria to the University of Hamburg in 1938. The 77-year-long wait for a degree is a result of a quagmire of political and social factors. Rapoport's thesis was commended by her professor in '38, but since she is half Jewish, and the dean of the university at the time labeled the school "the first national-socialist institute of higher learning in the Reich," Rapoport was denied the chance to move forward in pursuit of her doctoral degree. "My medical existence was turned to rubble," Rapoport tells the Wall Street Journal. "It was a shame for science and a shame for Germany."
Fleeing to the US later that year, Rapoport found success, earning her MD, getting married, and starting a family with another doctor. But Rapoport and her husband were both Communist sympathizers, and this landed them in hot water with the US government; they moved to East Germany around 1950. Still, she was unable to obtain the degree she applied for back in '38 until her son—a Harvard professor—recently relayed the story to the University of Hamburg's medical faculty, and they devised a plan to let Rapoport earn the degree. With help from friends and family she studied up on decades of diphtheria advances (her poor eyesight made computer use and reading impossible) and defended her dissertation yesterday. When she gets her degree on June 9 she'll best the previous oldest person to receive a doctorate degree by nearly five years. (Read more advanced degrees stories.)