I have always believed in lifelong learning, so when I found myself with time on my hands, I decided I would investigate some of my interests, like psychology. So, I read a few books and become even more interested in psychology, plus business and few other topics. I knew that the local university had some basic psychology courses, so I registered and started to look over the course selections.
I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. So much to learn, so little time. After some guidance from a course advisor, I took Psychology 101 and some other basic classes like Communication and Introduction to Business. Not only did these courses peak my curiosity, they would help down the road, if I decided to pursue my bachelor's degree. I talked with the advisor about a five-year plan to get a degree, even though I would be in my mid-fifties when it happened.
A few days later, I went to the university bookstore and it was the first time I thought about my age. I was at least 30 years older than any of the other people there. I wondered if I'd be able to fit in when I got to class. After all, you hear so much about university kids and their parties. But I just bought my books and decided I would think about it later. I wanted to focus on getting ready for school.
And I did think about it, the generation gap, the differences in perspective from my generation to theirs, and decided I would just see what happens. After all, how bad could it be? I had never heard of anyone being laughed out of class; maybe I would be the first. I didn't think my age was an issue. I had just never gotten this involved with a group of younger people before.
The first day of class, I was nervous. It reminded me of my first day of high school. I knew what to expect, but it was all different somehow. I walked into the classroom and had a look around as I stood at the front of the room. That pause was just enough to have another student comment as I sat down, "I thought you were the professor." I laughed and said "No, not me."
When the professor did arrive, I noticed she was younger than me and I thought about how odd it might feel to have a younger person instruct me. I was usually the one who was asked all the questions. But she knew that I wanted to learn, so I just put that thought out of my head. Everyone was there for one reason: to learn. So, there was a feeling of equality and no one seemed to pay much attention to age. I was just another student, which was a relief.
After class, a few of the kids said they were going to meet up in the cafeteria, so I thought I would head over and see what went on there. Sitting in a corner seat, I watched kids gather into groups and discuss their classes. I never got the nerve to join any of the groups that day, but it was wonderful to feel their excitement.
I enjoyed the philosophy class the most I guess because it allowed me to feel like the sage to these younger people. It just so happened, I was naturally good at philosophy and I wondered if that came with age. The professor was impressed with my reasoning abilities and the other students wanted to team with me. Even if the reason was just to raise their grades a little.
In one of my later semesters, I decided to improve my spontaneity and enrolled in an acting class. I also wanted to see if I was as entertaining as I thought I was. This was a little more interactive than my other classes. I got to work with other students at a more personal level.
It was in the acting class that I met another older student. He was already an actor, but wanted to get some formal schooling, so it was a little different experience for him than me. When it came to the final exam, acting in front of the class, it was more nerve-racking than I imagined. It proved to me that however entertaining I may be, I was not ready to entertain the world. But, who knows, I may get there yet.
All in all, going to university at 50+ turned out to be a wonderful experience. I discovered I still have the ability to learn. When people have a common goal, like learning, age is not normally an issue. For the most part, I always felt like any other student. No one ever went out of his or her way to make a point of my age, and I was able to relate to the younger people just fine.
I intend to continue learning for as long as I am able because knowledge is refreshing and exhilarating. It keeps my mind growing and alert. It also allows me to meet all kinds of new friends, some for just a semester, others for longer.
Students my age, who I met from time to time, shared my enthusiasm for the experience. They were always happy and excited to learn. I eventually earned a PhD at the young age of 55, and am very proud of that achievement. It took some distance classes to get it all done, but that's another story.
SEPTEMBER 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND