Dear Young Undergraduates,
Hello there! I’ve noticed you sneaking glances at me. I imagine some of you are curious about who I am, how old I am and where I came from, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain. Though I’m not sure I can sum up who I am in a single letter—don’t most of us spend our entire lives trying to figure this out?
I was born sometime between the tragedy at Jonestown and the Iranian hostage crisis, which you probably learned about in an American history class of some kind. This makes me roughly 41 years old.
I like reading and true crime comedy podcasts. I watch “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” and “Fleabag.” I’m a diehard Jimmy Carter fan. My cats, The Night King and Korra, have their own Instagram page. I used to believe that conservatism was an inevitability of getting older, but I find that I’m growing more liberal with age.
I’m kind of bossy, and I belong to a bowling team made up of other true crime comedy podcast fans. I read 38 books last year. I’m married to a guy I met on an embarrassing dating website and I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. By the time I get to my first class at 4:30 p.m., I’ve already taken a kid to and from school, signed permission slips, packed lunches, cooked dinner and put in a seven-hour workday. If I look tired, it’s because I am. Most days I feel like a walking advertisement for a for-profit adult-centered university in a strip mall.
How did I get here? Today I drove myself. I’m parked at the charging station outside of the Weber Fine Arts building, which is a huge perk of driving an electric vehicle. I highly recommend it. If you want to know how I got to where I am in life, that’s another ordeal. Twenty years ago, I took a break from college that was intended to be temporary. Instead, I formed relationships and had children, and did all of that normal grown-up-type stuff most of us do in life.
Returning to school grew more difficult and complicated as time passed. Then one day, I just came back. I didn’t have an epiphany, nor did I walk in with my head held high, determined to forge a brighter path for my future (see: advertisement for adult education university in a strip mall). I’ve been told that most of you are unphased by my presence, but it doesn’t always seem so from my side of the aisle. I noticed when you stiffened up and started opening your books as I walked in on the first day. It was humiliating. Maybe next semester I’ll wear a shirt that says “Not the Professor” for the first week.
I’m here because it seemed like a waste to have 98 college credits and no degree, and because I didn’t have any reason not to be here. I’m here because just over a year ago, my son took his own life and I’m hoping to distract myself until some of the pain subsides and it hurts a little less to breathe. I’m here because I have the tiniest shred of hope that I’ll write or say something that might convince one of you to keep living. I’ve never believed in destiny, and I don’t think everything happens for a reason, but I wouldn’t be much of a person if I didn’t at least try.
It’s okay to talk to me. Just don’t assume I’m going to lead every group project. If I try to join your study group, it’s because I need to study. I’m not here to relive my glory days or fulfill some cliche life goal. I have no desire to go to your parties or hang out with your friends. I already have a perfectly good group of foul-mouthed, obnoxious cohorts. I’m not up to date with the latest trends, and I haven’t heard of your favorite band. I wouldn’t have known them when I was younger anyway. I’m still the same person I was 20 years ago.
So next time we’re in class together, you can interact with me the same way you would anyone else. We’re both here for the same reason. It’s okay if you don’t let me know that your mom is about my age. I’m already aware.
The Grown-up in the Back Row