Last week the fall semester began at GVSU. As I mentioned last week, four times a week I sit in a classroom of children. Actually, they’re all legally adults. But in the scope of my world, they are practically infants.
I’ve seen movies depicting the adult sitting in a classroom of kids. The Adam Sandler movie “Billy Madison” and scenes from Robin Williams’ “Jack” come to mind. The adult stands out, mostly because of his size. In my case, my graying hair and wrinkly skin are the things distinguishing me from my classmates. It takes me a little longer to get to class, and my back aches from sitting on the molded plastic seats. And in classrooms that have the seats connected to the tiny desks, my matronly figure doesn’t fit as well as it used to.
When I enrolled in Japanese 101, my original intention was to sit in the back of the room, absorb as much as I could, and keep my mouth shut. After all, in my experience, the last person kids this age want to interact with is someone older than the instructor. So I showed up, did my work, soaked things in, and left. But language is an interactive skill, improved only when used. So I cautiously entered in class discussions, asking questions when a grammar point was unclear, or when the instructor’s use of vocabulary differed from what I had heard.
A funny thing happened when I actually “joined” the class. Instead of regarding me with disdain, the students simply accepted me. I discovered I wasn’t the only “non-traditional” student (though I was definitely the eldest). When we were instructed to work in groups, I didn’t have to wait for other groups to form and then work with the lonely student left behind. And when passing classmates on campus, I would often be greeted with a cheery “hello.”
Perhaps young people are more accepting of other people’s parents than their own. That was certainly the case with one of my kids. Or maybe these kids have matured to the point where they can accept someone of my generation as a peer. In any case, I no longer feel like an outsider. If it weren’t for my aching joints as I walk across the campus, I can almost imagine myself back to the first time I actually was a college student.
It seems that the news is full of horror stories about young adults who make terrible decisions. Television often depicts teens as lazy, self-absorbed, and rude. I guess it’s natural to worry about “the younger generation.” I recall the WWII generation worrying about the hippies in the 60s. But we survived then, and we’ll survive now. And from what I can see, there is no shortage of intelligent, well-mannered young adults who will take good care of me when I’m no longer able to walk to class. In the meantime, I’m thrilled that they are allowing me to swim in their pond for a while.
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I took some pictures of the fleece hats produced by our “Warm Ears” sewing group, as described in my “Senior Road Trip” post on August 17. So far this year we’ve made more than 2500 hats! Visit warmingears.com for more information about our group.