I was recently asked an interesting question by an acquaintance: "What's it like being a 40ish college student?"
It's something I haven't thought about since re-enrolling at Glenville State College in January. However, once I was asked that question, I definitely had a lot of comparisons floating into my mind from the time when I first began my bachelor's degree (in 1989) on through my first go-round at GSC in my 30s to my present stint as a student.
To think back on my days as an undergrad in my late teens and early 20s is to remember a blur of non-stop motion. I attended what was then Faulkner State Junior College to take my core classes Ð English 101 and 102, Biology, World Cultures, etc. Ð at the school's satellite campus in Fairhope, Alabama.
It didn't start as a blur. I had classes all morning, and usually worked a late afternoon shift at the local grocery store. I did not have a car, so I walked a mile and a half to work from school, sometimes spending the interim at the library or at the local bookstore.
In fact, I spent so much time at the bookstore that the manager offered me a job there. I took it, and also kept my cashier job at the grocery store. I handled both jobs even after I transferred to the University of South Alabama, across the Bay in Mobile, which made for some frantic drives, doing 80 MPH on I-10 as I tried to get from my last morning class in Mobile to the bookstore in Fairhope within 30 minutes.
I'd sell books until 5:00 or 6:00, then go to the grocery store until around 10:00 or 11:00, sometimes later.
I only recount this because I remember working so well and going to class...not so well. I remember just about everything better than going to class when I was in my 20s. Truth be told, a lot of this has to do with the fact that I did not go to class very much after I took a second job and transferred to a university.
And I admit these things only to underscore the main difference between being a student then and being a student now.
I'm certainly not proud of my past attendance record, or of the terrible grades I received partly as a result. I have never been an exemplary student Ð I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth Ð and have never, ever enjoyed being in school.
So one of the main differences between being a student Then versus being a student Now is that I actually go to my classes regularly, and will manage to pull down average to above-average grades. I still don't like school, and once I am finished in May, I will not be pursuing any other undergraduate degrees or post-graduate degrees.
Which points to the biggest difference between Then and Now: I am actually going to finish. Hopefully, finishing (and being handed that paper which says so) may afford me some mobility.
The most wonderful thing about that will be not having to move toward any other academic pursuits, despite the fact that I hope to remain a lifelong learner at the College of Life and Getting On With It.