It’s MY Dream.
My age became a sticking point even before school started. And it was never more apparent than when Rachel and I traveled to a local office supply store to stock up on everything I would need for college. I clutched my schedule of classes, and the list of school supplies, I so painstakingly put together the day before, as I entered what can only be called–“The Twilight Zone”. Upon entering the store, a very pretty (and young) sales associate approached us and asked if we needed help finding anything. Well, of course we did! Help is good. It saves time and energy. I thought the best advice about school supplies would come from someone, like her, who was young enough to actually use them. See, going to college was not going to be as hard as I thought. I handed her the list, she looked it over, promptly turned to Rachel and asked her what college she was going to. I was not offended. It was a reasonable assumption that the seventeen year old daughter was getting ready for college as opposed to the much older mother. I smiled at her as I explained that I was the student, not Rachel. The poor girl looked horrified and shook her head in disbelief. I assumed she was embarrassed by her mistake. I waited for her to compose herself, after all, I was focused on gathering the necessary supplies I would need for my classes. It was important to be prepared, because I wanted to do the best work possible. Just like a carpenter cannot build a house without a hammer, a student cannot do well without the right tools. However, when she did recover from the initial shock of who the student really was, she looked at me and asked, “Why”? Now I was a bit offended. But perhaps I should have expected it. I am not a traditional student, you will never see me on the fancy television commercials for the university I plan to attend. Nor is someone my age ever featured prominently on the slick brochures. But my answer to the young woman, who felt it was perfectly acceptable to ask me why I would go to college, knowing nothing about me, except that I was not a recent high school graduate, was as offensive as her question. I answered, “Why not”?
I do not want or need special treatment because of my age, but I do want to be considered as a student. I am going to college for many of the same reasons as traditional students. I want to learn. I want to be smart. I want to understand what has always seemed so difficult to me. I want good grades, honors maybe, and definately a degree. But unlike traditional students, I am already retired and do not need an education to start a career or make the “big bucks”. I am not a” soccer mom” who is returning to school to get ahead in a current career or start a new one. I do not have young children at home that need me, or a job that demands my time. I have no desire to audit courses like many of my peers, to keep myself alert and informed. I want to earn a degree on my own merit and hard work. Why? Because it is my dream.
A dream is a dream, no matter how long it takes to achieve it. While most little girls in the fifties and sixties dreamed of their wedding day and houses with white picket fences, I dreamed of graduation day and academic rhetoric. And my dreams were getting closer as the calendar on the kitchen wall counted the days till I would finally begin college. But first, I had to get through–Freshman Orientation. Undaunted by my experience at the office supply store, I was certain that at orientation I would not experience the same negative (and downright rude) reactions that I had seen elsewhere. This was college and people were judged on their knowledge and ability, not age. I could not have been more wrong. Rachel offered to go with me to orientation. She always goes with me. I would like to imagine it is because she is the supportive daughter every mother wants. In reality, I think she just wants a preview of what is to come for herself, when she starts college next year. Still, I appreciate the company and it is nice to have someone to share all the excitement with. But orientation started on a sour note. I signed in at the welcome table and was told that parents were to meet in the Student Center, and only students were allowed to attend the various seminars that were offered. I patiently explained that I was the student and with a shake of her head, the welcome attendant mumbled, “Whatever” and proceeded to the next person in line. Starting to feel like going to college may not have been the right decision, I dispatched Rachel to the parents area and moved to the first session. At the door, a student mentor stopped me and explained that parents were supposed to go to the Student Center. During the five hours of Freshman Orientation, I was told seventeen times that parents were meeting in the Student Center.
Ageism is alive and thriving at the university I plan to attend. Throughout orientation, the day I looked forward to for so many years as the start of something wonderful, I was alternately ignored, re-directed to the Student Center, and outright stared at. It was disheartening to say the least. But at the end of the day, I saw my beautiful daughter, Rachel, so confident, so accepting, walk across the campus smiling and I knew none of it mattered. She was proud of me and absolutely positive that I would not only pass my classes, I would excel in college. In fact, my offspring had more faith in me than I did. So, it did not matter what other students, staff, or even professors thought of me. It only mattered what I thought of me. This is my dream. I am “so over” these people with their outdated attitudes toward age. I am going to be a great college student.