in the 40s
By Michael Bracken
Graduation is seven months away. For a 22-year-old
undergrad whose post-baccalaureate plans are nebulous,
this might seem like forever. Not for me. In January
2000, at the age of 42, I returned to college after
a long academic hibernation. Ive been a part-time
college student ever since, creeping up on a long-delayed
There is no single, overriding reason why I returned
to college after so long away, but I felt trapped between
a spouse wrapping up work on her M.A. in journalism
and a son in high school who demanded to know why his
college dropout father was pushing him into higher education.
Unless I returned to college immediately, I would soon
be the least-educated person in the house. Baylors
then-generous tuition remission program for employee
family members my wife is managing editor of
an academic journal eased my concerns about the
financial burden of returning to school and ensured
that Baylor was the only university to which I applied.
Since returning, I have been challenged in unexpected
ways. Baylor does
little to accommodate nontraditional undergraduate students,
offering no weekend classes and few evening classes.
Some offices close during the lunch hour, and entire
buildings are sealed tighter than Tupperware promptly
Initially, I held a traditional full-time job, and
I often flew across town with minimal regard for traffic
signals, hoping to beat the English departments
noon lock-down. Each time I arrived to find the office
door handle still warm from the hand of the person who
locked it, I taught new and imaginative curse words
to Baylors abundant squirrel population.
Back then, registration and payment of tuition and
fees required a day off work, and the endurance of a
sequoia as lines moved slower than frozen molasses.
While Baylors adoption of electronic solutions
reduced my frustration by allowing me to register and
pay fees online, the universitys constant upgrading
of hardware and software soon outpaced my personal budget.
Now I must travel to campus just to find a computer
powerful enough to complete these tasks.
Even though I successfully overcame real and imagined
obstacles, I had no specific plan when I returned to
school. At first, I enrolled in one course each semester.
I soon realized that I would qualify for AARP
membership while I was still receiving student discounts,
so I began doubling and tripling my class load.
When presented with the opportunity to move from conventional
employment to self-employment, I embraced it. Rather
than forcing my class schedule fit my work schedule,
I could adjust my workload to fit my class schedule.
This becomes increasingly important as I approach the
end of undergraduate life, when only single sections
of required courses may be offered each semester.
Hardest to adjust to was the realization that I am
no longer young. Desks are too small for someone who
gained his freshman 15" and then spent nearly
30 years developing middle-aged spread, and whats
left of my hair is now more salt than pepper.
Despite raising one of my own, members of the wired
generation confound me. While my family didnt
own a television until I reached third grade, my classmates
came out of the womb clutching a computer mouse and
a cell phone. A once-peaceful walk across campus is
now interrupted at every step by the nonstop chatter
of the connected, and the beep, chirp and moan of student
cell phones regularly disturb classes.