Inspiring story of school dropout with a PhD

V Kathiresan had to drop out of school to support his family. Years later, working for A P J Abdul Kalam as his driver, he was encouraged to restart his education.

Today he has a PhD, has written two books, and is a college lecturer.

Anything is possible or shall we say nothing is impossible. V Kathiresan’s story proves that. This school dropout, who used to work as a driver for A P J Abdul Kalam, ensured that his dream turned into a reality at the age of 47.

A native of Vadachennimalai in Tamil Nadu, Kathiresan has come a long way with sheer determination. From being a school dropout, he went on to complete a PhD in history and was appointed a lecturer at the Arignar Anna Government Arts College in Vadachennimalai last year.

“I can never forget the role played by Kalamayya (sahib). I worked as a driver with him for five-and-a-half-years and during those long drives, I used to talk to him about my aspirations and dreams.”
“One day while driving, Ayya suggested that I should resume my studies. He told me that the best way to go about it was through long distance education. Ayya used to lecture several students about the importance of education. I used to listen to him speak and got inspired.”
It wasn’t easy for Dr Kathiresan. After working at a 10 to 6 job, he would come home and study to catch up on all those lost years.
His struggle against the odds has become an example for his students. Santhosh Mani, a student at the college, says his teacher’s story is like a fairy tale. “We complain so much about work load and the other burdens of life,” says Mani. “Today I look up to him and tell myself that anything is possible. It is just a matter of dedication and effort.”

Dr Kathiresan lost his father very early in life and had no choice but to support his family. Though he was always fond of studying, financial problems compelled him to drop out of school. “It was one of the most painful decisions of my life, but I accepted it as a way of life.”

He trained as an electrician and joined the Indian Army in 1979. His first posting was in Bhopal, then Sikkim followed by Hyderabad.
He first met A P J Abdul Kalam at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory in the 1980s. Kalam was DRDO’s director at the time and Kathiresan was deputed as his driver.

I must thank the Almighty that I was given such an opportunity,” says Dr Kathiresan. “If not for Kalamayya’s inspirational words, I would have never been able to achieve this. Even after Ayya left DRDO, I continued to ponder over what he said about the importance of education.”

He started working towards completing his school education. He appeared for the Class X and then Class XII examinations privately and obtained a BA from Madurai Kamraj University through distance education. He then went on to do an MA in political science.
“I noticed that as the days passed, the urge to pursue higher studies started creeping into my system. I did my BEd followed by an MEd from Madras University and then an MPhil from Kamraj University. I then did law and finally a PhD from Manonmaniam Sundaranar University.”

In 2001, he passed the teachers’ recruitment exam, and was selected on merit. His first assignment as a teacher was at Kovilpatti where he worked for eight years. Apart from this he has written four books on history and a travel guide for the Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu.

“After completing my PhD, I called Ayya and told him that I had got a job also. The kind words and the appreciation that he gave me are more important than anything else in this world. He had faith in me and I did not let him down.”

Dr Kathiresan cannot forget the role his wife Kasthuri played in his entire struggle. A teacher herself, she was a rock through his difficult times. The couple have decided to ensure that their son Raghavan, who is in Class XII, gets sound academic grooming.

Grateful that he had Kalam as a mentor he now wants to help other students who have not had a chance to complete their education. “I would be only too glad if I could pass this on to several students who have the urge to learn and strive to be the best.”

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10 Responses to Inspiring story of school dropout with a PhD

  1. Selvan says:

    It is inspiring to know that a school drop out has completed Ph.D.I remember one of the sayings of Dr.A.P.J.: “Small aim is a crime”.

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  3. sepiyan says:

    Hi my name sivakumar, I am very wonder about Dr.Kathiresan who got a paramount status with his hardworks. I am also a schools dropout..! i was aborted my studies also within 5nd standard this event was in 1998, now i am working as a loadman in a private company at Madurai(which include kamaraj university) a district of tamilnadu, india.

  4. changeminds says:

    Dear Sivakumar,

    There are lots of success stories of school and college drop outs. You can even now continue your studies through open university. Kindly visit the following links for more inspiring stories of drop outs.

    Keep visiting for more success stories.

    I am sure you can also become a great success story and I will be glad to publish your success story also in my blog.


  5. S.R.Ayyangar says:

    There is no age bar to learn and achieve.THERE SHOULD BE A WILL AND ZEAL TO DO. I always quote Dr. Abdul Kalam’s advice to youngsters that they should dream BIG!

    This is my first visit to your blog and found it throughly inspiring. There are many unknown achievers whose stories can be brought to light. You are doing a wonderful job in this task.

  6. Hari, reading this my eyes moistened. I wondered how we all fret and fume over little problems while this gentleman did what he did in spite of all his huge problems. God definitely brought Kalamji in his life for a purpose. I am impressed by the efforts taken by this once-upon-a-time school drop out.

    Three cheers for people like him!

  7. Stuart Pedley-Smith says:

    Hi I am a lecturer in Finance from the UK and write a blog about how to pass exams.

    Having the motivation to keep going is very important if you are to succeed both in and out of the exam room.One way of “toping up” your ,motivation is to read about the inspiring stories of others.

    Your blog certainly provides much to help with this….

  8. komal garg says:

    congratulations to Dr. Kathisearn. .really a man i want to salute. .a very inspirational story. .life never stops, it keeps going. .moreover reading this Dr. Kalam’s respect aroused 100 times in my mind. .

  9. Anxious says:

    I am so anxious. I am 23 years old. turning 24.
    I got accepted into a good higher learning institution when i was 19. i dropped out a year later. i felt very overwhelmed. Everytime I got a test back i felt as though i was an idiot. that somehow i had conned the university into believing that i was smart enough to be there.

    But now i have this longing in my heart. i want a degree. I want my parents to be proud. I found a job as an admin clerk but it is the most unfulfilling job. People talk to me as if i am stupid.

    I want to get a commerce degree and then my Law degree and then and MBA. but I am so afraid.

    My best friends stuck it out and they are all doing well.

    The thought of the future makes me very anxious because i feel as though in a few years i will not fit into their worlds. They will all be successful women and I will be stuck with jobs that depress me but that i cannot leave.

    i’m so confused.

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