Column about adult students

Rick Lowe

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One of the things that threw me for a loop a few years back was coming into Lake Michigan (Community) College as a freshman and realizing that there were other people in the class who were visibly older than me—I mean, significantly older, with hairstyles slightly out of date and sometimes graying, with wiser faces and expressions, and with far better tastes in music.

Seriously, older students like a lot of the same music as me. That’s why I connect with them so well, I think. I can sit there and talk with the non-traditionals about bands that we both grew up listening to and still listen to today. One of my favorite ice breakers with any of these guys is “you look like you might be a Rush/Zeppelin fan.” Sometimes they’re like “wow, are you psychic?” I mean not really. But they get it, you know? These elders in our midst aren’t unapproachable, looking down their noses at us. A lot of them…

That’s got to be humbling, yeah? Think about being older, thinking “I’m done with school forever,” and then years down the line you decide “I think I need to go back and take classes because there’s something unsatisfying in my life.” Or whatever the reason. And so the middle-aged rejoin the ranks of the schooled and… bam. Equals. The lady sitting behind me might be old enough to be my mother; she might even be older than the professor, but we’re on the same level now. We’re going through the same stresses as far as the coursework goes, and the chances of these older students having kids is so much higher than the chances of us younger ones having kids. Kids alone have got to be a drain on your time and energy, and then you throw in classes to go to, driving back and forth, balancing whatever career you already have with being in college…

What’s this about? Ehh… guess I’m just giving a celebratory shout-out to these older students. They’re freaking cool. Lots of the time I’d rather talk to them and sit next to them and partner up with them, than I would with people my own age. The older ones just make sense. They’re strategic and experienced and generally hate Kanye West as much as I do.

Speaking of shout-outs, I want to give a big one to Mom, who was taken out of high school in the eighth grade, spent years having her intelligence and childhood insulted by blood relatives, and is now in her second semester of college with her name on the Dean’s List and, last I heard, an Early Childhood Education major shaking in her sights. While simultaneously holding down a house and taking care of business that includes homeschooling my two soon-to-be-graduating brothers. That is the epitome of girl power right there.

Next time you see an older student in the classroom, even if you don’t talk to them, try to listen to what they’ve got to say. If you’re one of those people who likes to talk and raise your hand, calm yourself and give them some chances to speak up. And if you happen to be one of these older students I’m raving about, just know that I find you inspiring and encouraging, and your tastes in music bodacious.