You pile into the lecture hall on your first day of class. You push open the over-sized wooden doors and make your way to the cold, uncomfortable plastic chairs. You catch a glimpse of the professor and begin to size her up. She looks pleasant and personable enough. And then you begin to silently judge your fellow classmates — especially those who may strike you as out-of-the-ordinary.
Last week, as class was beginning, I noticed a few classmates I hadn’t before. They were noticeably older — one perhaps in her mid 30s. Another in his early 40s. We’ve come to know these older classmates as “adult learners.” They’re people who are brave enough to go back to school and get a degree that they had never been able to get in the past.
Personally, I would never have the courage to return to college after letting so much time pass. It’s shallow, but I’d feel too embarrassed to attend classes with people who are so much younger than I am.
I’m writing this to express that I envy people that are so adamant about changing their lives that they’re willing to spend the time and money to commit to educating themselves and altering their own path.
There’s one woman in my class who goes about her own business and keeps her head down. She doesn’t talk to many of us, but I can see that she does well academically. She asks questions in class and seems genuinely interested in the subject matter. I’m not even sure that I know her name, but I wonder if she’s a mother. I wonder if she attends class on top of parenting and on top of a job.
These people embody the fact that it’s never too late to change your own life. Maybe they couldn’t afford to go to college right out of high school.
Maybe they had children early and had to put their career on hold. Maybe they were afraid. I remember how scared I was when I first woke up in my new dorm freshman year.
I think it’s disrespectful when students my age roll their eyes at adult learners. They’re known to ask more questions than most and, apparently, that’s annoying to my generation.
Well, at least they’re actually interacting with the professor and not scrolling through Twitter, right?
The thirst for knowledge from adult learners is admirable. Perhaps the younger students would appreciate their classes more if their tuitions were coming from their own pockets and they knew what life was like without a degree.
I don’t think adult learners get enough credit. Imagine having to return to junior high right now to get an education that you missed out on. You wouldn’t want to do it. Whether it’s because of time or energy, you would probably say , “No, thank you.”
It takes immense bravery and determination to return to college. Next time you see an adult learner, try to imagine life through his or her eyes. Don’t be so quick to judge. In fact, don’t be so quick to judge anyone, for that matter.
Email Courtney Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org