Mind the Gap

By Ellen Wakefield

August can make us think of many things: the winding down of summer (although around here, the hot weather isn’t going ANYWHERE), the reality of fall being just around the corner, and for many folks, going back to school. As we all know, going back to school isn’t just for “young” people. When I completed my degree, I was in my mid-thirties, and although I was outnumbered, I was still in good company.

Being an adult student brings a unique set of challenges with it. There are, of course, the usual suspects: juggling school with any combination of spouses, children, job, social lives, exercise (if that’s even on the radar), financial responsibilities… the list goes on. But aside from all of those, there can be the added confusion (awkwardness? hilarity?) of being in classes with people that are much younger than you. The age gap can take some getting used to, and it can sometimes cause problems in the communications department, not to mention occasionally make you feel incredibly old. Regardless, there are lots of good things that come with being in class with the millennials.

Millennials can:

  • Make you extremely grateful for the era you grew up in.
  • Remind you that you don’t have to take yourself so seriously.
  • Make you feel like you’ve got it more together than you really do.
  • Help you to remember that even though being a “real adult” is a lot of work, it does come with lots of perks.
  • Remind you that you’d probably never want to be that age ever again.
  • Remind you that people of all different ages can be friends and learn from each other.
  • Chip away at the notion that if you’re “young,” you’re also dumb, and if you’re “not so young” that you’re out of touch and have nothing to bring to the table.
  • Bring a liveliness to the classroom, keep you on your toes, and make you laugh.

Going back to school for anyone can be a struggle, and it can be even worse if you feel out of place or if you don’t know anyone. It’s important to make an effort to talk to people and make a few friends. School can be isolating if you feel like you’re going at it alone. I noticed, and benefitted, from the fact that younger students tend to spend more time on campus, for various reasons, and I made sure to tap into that resource: where to eat, which professors to take (and which to avoid), what clubs to join (if that’s your thing), and how to tackle the parking problem (if there’s even a solution to that), among other things. It’s easy to make assumptions, like I did, about people from a different generation than you, but those assumptions don’t have to be permanent. Everyone has something to bring to the table; everyone has their own experiences and opinions and life lessons that differ from everyone else’s, and it’s cool to see when all of those things are brought together in a situation like a classroom, where people so different from each other might not have otherwise crossed paths.

Branching out, meeting each other, learning from each other…..it’s a great thing.