Sometimes I forget.
I sit next to an array of young adults, listening to the same lectures, reading the same texts, and writing the same assignments. We’re all just students, getting through another semester of classes, each reaching for the same end: graduation.
But then, something will jolt my illusion.
The end of last semester, I was chatting with a classmate who mentioned that he was born in 1982.
1982?! God, I’m so old! It’s easy to forget, when I’m walking around campus, that I am closer to thirty than I am to twenty.
Despite always getting carded for my Long Islands and the urge to cut loose a little in my free time -not that I have any – I usually can’t ignore that things are different this time around.
My roommate, who is back for her second bachelor’s, agreed that, even when she usually feels like just another student, it’s still different. “It’s not the social life that it was when I first went to college,” she said.
Even so, my roommate and I are single, with no kids. There are many non-traditional students who must juggle a family life as well.
One student, Meg, who is 33 and back in school after 10 years, said, “It is difficult to be a wife, an employee and a student. Sometimes it feels like there’s just not enough time in the day to get it all accomplished.”
And then there is Bridgett. She is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. A single mother of a young son, Bridgett is back in school so life can be better for the two of them in the future. But when you juggle too many balls, one or two have to fall to the ground. At one point, near the end of last semester, she felt she wasn’t spending enough time with her son. So she dropped a class or two from her schedule. And sometimes she just couldn’t make class because of him, and she just accepted whatever consequences she might incur. But she did it with a strong, determined grace.
You rarely see that with students fresh from high school. I doubt I could have handled that. Not the first time around. But things change.
The first time I went to college, I hadn’t had to wake my mind up from the years in the secure, dulling routine of Corporate America. I hadn’t had to figure out what to do after the big layoff, and how to make that car payment on the Outback purchased two months before the ax dropped. I hadn’t yet been married or known the numbing sting when the ‘dissolution’ papers were signed. I hadn’t seen my old school become a household name for violence and tragedy. I hadn’t yet become the token liberal in my Reaganite family, and I hadn’t been ‘excommunicated’ from the church of my upbringing for having a few different ideas about what Christianity really meant.
It’s amazing what a few years will do to a person.
The experience gives a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have, and no amount of studying can replace it. And, when the professor makes a statement that “you are all to young to remember the Challenger,” we non-traditionals give each other a look that says, “not all of us.”
But despite how out-of-place or how old I feel next to my bright young classmates, I love being a student, and I know I am not alone in my enthusiasm. I think Meg, the non-traditional who is back after 10 years, summed it up perfectly.
“I love it! I am having such a great time,” she said. “I think my experiences are much richer now that I am a little older. I am not afraid to talk with professors or ask questions.”
I’m sure this whole thing is making me a better person and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”