Henry P. Porter Jr. is far from your typical student, even pushing the limits of the term “nontraditional.” The 81-year-old professor emeritus, not one to rest on his laurels and relax in retirement, came to Virginia Tech several years ago to study geography and English.

Porter taught history at Washington and Lee University for 38 years and at Miami University of Ohio for six and a half years prior, with the distinction of having taught the first African history course in each school’s history department. His courses ranged from separate offerings on East Africa, West Africa, and Southern Africa, to Canadian history, India from the Moghuls to today, and modern European history.

At Virginia Tech, Porter struggled with some of his courses that relied on the latest computing techniques and technology, yet flourished in others and dabbled in five languages. Whenever challenged, though, he proactively sought out students and faculty for assistance. After fulfilling the requirements for his English degree in the spring semester, he returned this summer and passed a statistics course that had previously eluded him to complete his geography degree — making him Virginia Tech’s oldest graduate on record!

“Geography fascinates me because it is so important to the history of a country,” explained Porter, who has crisscrossed Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the British Isles, and parts of Europe and Africa. “I never wanted to retire, so I came to Virginia Tech to study.”

“Henry was a student in two of my classes during his ‘career’ at Virginia Tech,” said Associate Professor Lynn Resler. “He contributed considerable wisdom that spanned generations into our classroom discussions, enhancing the students’ and my own perspectives on natural resource topics. He is a true gem.”

Adjunct geography instructor Stewart Scales agreed that Porter was an unexpected treat to have in class. “I believe I learned more from him than he did from me,” Scales said. “He is a very kind soul and was so appreciative of simply being able to attend class, learn new skills, and hear different perspectives. He is a model of how the learning process never ends.”

“I am so glad I came back to finish,” proclaimed Porter. “One of the great things about the geography and English departments is the way they look after their students. I had some great professors in both departments.”