Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Life Begins at 80

The other day my wife, Betsy Barefoot, and I were over at a fine community college in eastern North Carolina near where Betsy grew up in Goldsboro. So it was easy for us to also pay a visit to her older sister, who is a fairly recent widow. She is a lovely and very smart person, and an extremely successful retail business entrepreneur, who is now essentially retired. She told me something I have never heard any other person of her vintage say: “I am 80 and I love it. I am free. I can do what I want. I know what life has brought me. I wouldn’t want to be any of my former ages again. I like this one the best!”

Well, that really got me thinking-- and admiring her even more. Naturally, my thoughts turned to my career long cohort of charges, first-year college students. I got to wondering how many of them would be able to say “I love being a first-year student?” Or, “I am 18 (or 25) and I wouldn’t want to be any other age.” My experience both as a former new college student, and with thousands of my own first-year students, would suggest that most of them wouldn’t say that they loved being a new college student or that they wouldn’t want to be any other age. Excited about being a new student? Yes. Optimistic about finally starting college? Yes (for some).

I remember my own start. As I reflected in a recent blog, I was 17 and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back and do that over again. And I was lonely, homesick, depressed, restless, adrift, very unfocused---and I definitely wouldn’t want to do that again either.

So as you begin your work with new students this fall, take a good look at them. Try to imagine how they would respond to these questions I have posed above. While they may not be in any rush to be where you are, I suspect that most of them want to get behind them as fast as possible the beginning college experience. And you my reader may well be a key to helping them achieve this objective successfully.

-John Gardner