(This is part two of a series that began here.)
For the most part they stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Try as they might to blend in with the younger crowd, they simply couldn’t manage to go unnoticed.
And we mocked them behind our lily-white, unblemished hands.
They carried worn satchels crammed with every required and suggested textbook for every class they attended. And they attended all of them. Every day. Even the ones at 8:00 AM on Friday morning. We knew this because we’d hear them in the bathroom, shaving with their obnoxiously loud electric razors, running the showers right up to the brink of the limits of the hot water heaters. If we rolled out of the loft and actually ventured into the john, we’d see them . . . bright-eyed and chipper.
They were morning people.
Instead of spending their evenings hanging out at the campus commons watching MTV and eating generic sausage pizza, talking about everything and nothing at once, they stayed in their room and studied. Listening to country music. Or Neil Diamond. At a reasonable decibel level. They lived on the quiet floor and they expected quiet. And when study time eventually ended they watched Headline News. Or PBS.
What geezers! Party poopers!
At some point toward the end of the week they’d disappear. Hop in their Jeeps and vanish for the weekend. We didn’t care much where they went. Just that they were gone. Leaving us to our Iron Maiden and Motley Crüe and hot dates and late-night Uno parties in front of the elevator. Which they always used instead of the stairs.
They were the SOTAs.
Students Older Than Average.
Nowadays, the correct term is a “non-traditional” student. And I’m one of them.
According to one study, nearly one-third of all undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States are over the age of 25. Most of these students attend part-time.
We have lives to live. Bills to pay. Families to care for. And no trust fund to foot the bill for a college education.
As one non-traditional student put it when asked about the “extras” faced by non-traditional students for a study conducted at the University of North Carolina, “In my instance, it’s working through school. I don’t have as much time. A lot of professors just don’t see that. In general most of them are used to kids where their parents are paying their bills and they have the spare time. They can go to study sessions at 3:00 in the afternoon. I have to totally rearrange my schedule to try and be there for this. They don’t seem to accommodate that very much. It’s the little things, where it’s a little harder. You have to really want to go back to school because it seems like if you don’t really want it, you’re fighting against the wind. It’s easy to give up.”
Or consider the case of Doug McCurry, a 49 -year-old mechanical engineering sophomore at LSU. McCurry began classes while working full-time and eventually had a heart attack. His perspective changed dramatically: “Your social life is not as important as your education is now,” he said. “You come back now and want to make the most of it.”
Are there advantages that come with having geezers around the college campus? The UNC study cited above concludes that “[b]ecause of the wider experience they have of life, nontraditional students bring a different perspective to the classroom. They may see class topics and material from unusual angles, and introduce unexpected opinions and insights into class discussion. Nontraditional students often feel excluded or singled out because no one in the classroom seems quite able to explain why they are there, neither students nor the teacher. In each new class, therefore, they must reintroduce and re-explain their position to the class in the hopes of making the other students and the teacher more comfortable with their presence. They seem to agree that once they explain their presence, the other students seem curious and interested in them rather than nervous about their presence . . . The greatest asset nontraditional students bring to the classroom, apart from their life experience, is their willingness to work hard and to “go the extra mile.” Nontraditional students are back in school with clear goals and reasons for being there. They are often unusually active and thoughtful participants in class. They can be a source not only of extra insights and information, but also of enthusiasm for a class, and they ask nothing more than teachers use their particular type of diversity to the class’s advantage.”
And we generally don’t walk that extra mile in flip-flops and pajama bottoms.
Why do I do it?
It’s about my kids. I want them to see that learning is a lifelong experience. And sometimes learning happens best when structured. I have tests to study for. Papers to write. Books to read with more than a skin-deep glance. And, yes, grades matter. When one of my kids brings home an assignment emblazoned with a big, fat, red A, it goes on the wall. Our mural of academic achievement. And nothing makes me more proud than to see a logic test I’ve aced or philosophy paper I’ve nailed hanging next to a crepe paper fish or German exam. We are in this together. And we do our best.
Even when it’s hard . . .
(For helpful information and resources aimed at non-traditional students, visit the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education at www.antshe.com.)
Part One – What Are You Going To Do With That?
Part Three – Being Kirk