Starting college was a portal into a new world. There were core subjects I’d never heard of, campus clubs that took familiar themes to a whole different level, and more diversity in my classmates than I’d ever known. Occasionally, that meant there was an old person in our midst—like, over 25.
They were practically unicorns on the daytime campus; evening classes were more their realm. They were quiet, and friendly enough, in a reserved sort of way. These factors, plus the fact that they were outside the average age range, made them seem (say it with me) creeeeeeepy. Quasi-people, y’know? Of course they had every right to be there… but the fact that they actually went ahead and did so seemed to violate some minor social more, like the person who unashamedly takes the last donut that everyone else has “politely” refused. I felt for them, being a dyed-in-the- wool outsider myself, but any attempted friendships never quite panned out.
While pursuing a double major, I got engaged and moved to another state. My studies continued, but fell to the wayside after we split up. In the ensuing years, I took an occasional class when possible, but without any family help and very little state aid (due to refusing to make babies for profit), it became increasingly difficult to make enough money to pay rent while finishing basic degrees. The advent of online classes helped with that, but further education still seemed unattainable.
Long story short, I eventually went back as a re-entry student. When I announced my intentions, there was a lot of “Good for you!” and “It’s never too late!” It didn’t strike me until later that these encouragements were uttered in the same tone heard by new parents and military recruits—part admiration, but mostly “You are so screwed.”
So, yeah—now I was one of the “creeeeeeepy” ones. A few instructors were younger than me. Every single rushing Greek ignored me, often contemptuously—but poured on extra charm during fundraising campaigns. (I deeply enjoyed returning the “fuck you” sentiment at that time; the resulting stupefied expressions are treasured memories.) The rabid bible-thumpers that now infest campus at key points of every term assumed that since I didn’t fit the college stereotype, I was somehow on their side. (Running off with a full box of briefly-unattended holy books, thus ending one team’s haranguing for the day, is another recollection that makes me smile.)
Now, on the other side of the cross-generational fence, I understand why those long-ago older students were so standoffish. There are many ways, subtle and otherwise, you’re told you Don’t Belong; it’d take more than one of these 500-word blartings
to describe them all. Connecting isn’t impossible, but it is damnably awkward. So if you’ve got an older classmate, just recognize that they have a lot in common with you—and a lot not. It’s up to both of you to decide how to work with that.