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College in the 40s
(Continued from 1)

When I was born, there were only 49 states, and I soon learned that most important events in the constitutional history of the United States have happened during my lifetime. This means that my fellow students study history, while I study current events.

In many classes, I’ve been the oldest person in the room, leading to an awkward sorting out of social convention. Will the instructor treat me with the respect due my age, or with the disdain appropriate for an undergrad?

At the beginning of each semester, professors often question students’ about their future plans, and my classmates mention doctor, lawyer and engineer. Me? I want to be a Social Security recipient because there isn’t enough time between graduation and retirement to actually have a career.

When I tell my wife about some of my class discussions — discussions where life experience clearly colors my opinions — she says, “Don’t frighten the children.” And it’s difficult not to think of my classmates as children, even though many of them are in early adulthood, because my 21-year-old son is among them, and I often find myself enrolled in courses with members of his high school graduating class.

In a university where students of my generation can probably be counted in single digits, there’s little opportunity to develop friendships. Even sincere attempts make me feel like the creepy neighbor my mother always warned me about.

But I have tried to experience college life the way a traditional undergrad might.

  • I've eaten cafeteria food, quickly realizing that the cast-iron stomach I had as a teenager is now one of the seven largest methane producers in Texas, and I must monitor my diet.

  • My wardrobe slowly devolved, and T-shirts emblazoned with one of Baylor's many logos are now my apparel of choice.

  • I joined three academic fraternities, but soon decided that my days as a chaperone ended with my son's high school graduation party.

  • Although I've yet to pull an all-nighter, I've certainly had my share of late-nighters, not opening my textbooks until my family finally retires for the night.

  • Along with other Baylor students, I've sat in the stands through losing season after losing season of football, and sat glued to the television as our women's basketball team advanced through the NCAA tournament to take the title.

While my son speeds through college without stopping for marriage, children and career, I relish the few advantages of being a college student at my age. I especially enjoy the reaction at the local multiplex when I request the “student discount,” and my wife takes great pleasure in telling people that she sleeps with a college student.

I’ll be 48 when I finally receive my B.A. in professional writing, having spent six years finishing half of my undergraduate requirements. At this glacial pace, dare I even consider grad school?

Michael Bracken is a 47-year-old senior at Baylor University in Texas. His latest book is Yesterday in Blood and Bone, a collection of short stories published by Wildside Press. "College in the 40s" first appeared in the June 13, 2005, issue of Inside Higher Ed and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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