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The non-traditional student: why they call it a degree

The non-traditional student: why they call it a degree

I turned 61 in July. The other day I sat in an admissions office to go back to school. I’m going to finish my college degree after, oh, about three dozen years of ‘off-campus study’ aka real life. teachers? Doctor? My gap year? No, the basic bachelor’s degree was left unfinished, hanging in the air since 1967. In my case, really hanging in the air, since, in the intervening decades since I crossed campus, I paid the bills with a flight career.

So why this. And why now? Vanity? Boredom? The desire to surround myself with pretty students? None of the above. The dresser took off a while back, along with my six pack that now looks like that guy from Pillsbury; boredom either, as life gets more exciting the closer you get to the end, and if you don’t believe it, you’re under forty. The students? Please. It takes some men thirty years to realize they’re not 20 anymore. Not me. I am happily off the market, happily married to the most attractive and beautiful woman on the planet. As Paul Newman said, why have burgers when you can have steak at home? Also, who is fooling whom? I hope they call me OGOC, Old Guy On Campus, really.

So why come back? My wife said it best: you’re turning 65 anyway; Why not get your diploma and start Social Security the same day? Tempting prospect, I thought. First it was the post-war GI bill, now another double-dip opportunity. Cool. A lovely girl, my wife, and so smart. I wondered why she wasn’t the one looking for the title instead of me. But she has a sheepskin and I don’t. Reason enough? No, but it illustrates the different vectors of our lives, and since I turned 60, and since I was in mid-retirement, I saw the point of it: why not now? I have time; I am inclined as the credit itch never went away; I have the money, the lack of which is more or less the reason I dropped out of college all those years ago, that and grades which, ahem, were also woefully lacking. Then came Vietnam, marriage, kids, mortgages, the whole gamut, all of which pushed college into the background.

Until now. A recent walk across campus ignited my old ambition, and one thing led to another, and I soon found myself talking to an adviser a third of my age about, gulping, trying again.

This, along with those listed by my spouse, is one of the reasons I choose to return to college. In short, I have experience to share. In other words, among the elderly and everyday, the vast majority of people, there has always been a rather bitter view of those in society lucky enough to spend their days in the idyllic, so-called ‘Ivory Tower’ of the academy. It may be jealousy, it may be envy, but for people in a nine to five world, the prospect of classes, books, the university environment and, of course, the party atmosphere represent a mythical part of life that, by its nature, ephemeral. , draws scorn from those whose weekly high point is Friday afternoon, especially if it’s payday. I’m arrogant enough to believe that I can be a resource on that campus. Maybe not to fellow students (I still marvel at that title), but to those charged with teaching things like the three ‘R’s, reading, writing, and real life. I’d like to think that I can add a little nuance in that classroom. This is not something I could have offered at 21, 41, or even 51. Now? I would like to think that my exposure to real life in these last forty years since the winter term of ’68 is useful and sought after by some who are truly eager to learn, which is the prospective purpose of the university, after all. I’d like to think that I can add a measure of perspective and truth to hypothetical propositions. And, I’d like to think, that’s by itself reason enough since, in my humble opinion, there’s a dearth of that particular activity in our cacophonous marketplace right now.

Obviously I’m not alone. Depending on definitions, ‘non-professionals’ made up a staggering 63% of the student body these days. There are a lot of returning veterans, a lot of young people on a gap year, and a lot more laid-off, downsized, and retrained workforce members than ever before sitting in those admissions offices like me. Plus, I’m a boomer, and everyone knows we’ll never grow up, never admit we’re old until we start drooling in our socks, and even then…

The presence of these nontraditional students, especially military veterans, enriches the classroom, many teachers say. As for veterans like me: “They’ve seen the world, faced incredible dangers, and had to make decisions that few civilians have had to make. That helps other students see the world in a more nuanced way.” according to Daniel Byman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, who recently addressed the issue in the Chronicle of Education. In my own case, having flown a helicopter in Vietnam, and then from the cockpit of a medical helicopter for twenty years, I have seen things, done things, gone places, and made decisions that none of those handsome students could. dream. above.

So hello hello, I’m off to class, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s never too late. To my fellow semi-retired boomers or not, give it some thought. As my wife says, you’re going to be 65 anyway. More gray heads in the graduation line can only be a good thing. There’s even a kind of Darwinian component: those younger guys, the jocks and frat boys, the guys who aren’t old enough to understand that the bill of your cap is supposed to protect your face, not the back of your neck. , they may need to exhibit a little more maturity when we’re around. Many cultures revere their more experienced class; maybe we can bring that idea closer to reality here by a degree, or two, or three…

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