‘It Depends on What “Old” Is’ Guest Author Suzanne E. Snyder – No. Virginia Community College Staff Member – Loudon Campus

Suzanne Synder

I have worked in the Loudoun Campus Counseling Office for about four years now, and lately a number of people have asked me the same question: “I’m (fill in the blank) years old—am I too old to go to college?”

As more and more baby boomers pass the half-century mark, they realize that fifty is not as old as they thought it would be. Let’s face it, when our parents were fifty, they were old. And when our grandparents were fifty, they were ancient! But those of us who arc turning fifty as we approach the millennium arc in better shape than any generation before us. We arc healthier, happier, stronger, smarter, and virtually ageless.

Okay, there was that one incident in the department store. 1 was shopping with a friend I have known since high school, and as my friend put her purchases on the counter, the cashier (who couldn’t have been more than twelve) asked my friend if she had her senior citizen discount card with her. Since my friend was fully five years away from eligibility for the senior discount, her mouth dropped open and she gasped for breath. She was stunned. She was insulted. She was furious! She tried to find the words to tell the cashier what an appalling mistake she’d made, when the girl waved her hand and said, “It’s okay. Don’t bother looking for the card. I’lljust give you the I0%discountanyway.” My friend, her mouth still open, looked at the cashier, looked at me, looked back at the cashier and said, “Thank you dear. That is very sweet of you.”

Where was I? Oh yes, college. I can tell those timid, would-be students, from personal experience, that they’re not too old for college. 1 enrolled in my first course after my oldest daughter was in high school, and I received my A.S. degree when I was close to fifty. Sure, it can be a bit unnerving when you discover that even the instructor is younger than you are, but most classes comprise students of various ages. And besides, age can be an asset. One history class 1 took seemed to be made up mostly of students right out of high school. As I looked around, thinking to myself that every student in the class was young enough to be my son or daughter, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me young lady, is this seat taken?” Before me stood a man old enough to be my father! Obviously, I was delighted to have him sit next to rne. As we became friends, he told me that he was 72 years old, and that after his wife had died, he sold his farm and moved into an apartment in a senior citizen community. He said history had always interested him but he had never had time to take classes before. He was an “A” student (not surprising since he had been an eyewitness to most of the topics we covered!) but unfortunately, he was unable to attend the last class. He was on his honeymoon!

Of course, most students returning to school are not as old as the aforementioned bridegroom. While some have been away twenty or thirty years, others may only have been away a few years, yet they still feel uncomfortable about being older than the average student. In order to help prospective students decide whether or not they are too old for college, I have devised the following questionnaire:

1.  Do you remember life before the wheel?

  1. Have you ever had a pet dinosaur?
  2. Did you ever ride with Atilla the Hun?
  3. Which brother was President: Bobby or Jack?
  4. Do you understand question #4?

If you answered “No” to questions I -3, you are not too old. If you stumbled over question #4, you arc far younger than you think. If you answered “No” to question #5, please bring proof of age when you hand in your application; you may be too young!

Remember, “old” is at least fifteen years older than you arc, and if you’re young enough to ask the question, you’re not too old for college.

©Suzanne Snyder 1999

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