I am a freshman at my local community college. By the looks of it, I am also the oldest student on campus. Not the oldest person, mind you. There are many professors who trudge about in their khaki and corduroy, pulling their overflowing briefcases along on little wheelie carts and using all the elevators they can find.
But I am not like them. I am a freshman and I have a freshman's backpack loaded with a hundred pounds and several hundred dollars-worth of textbooks, notebooks, pens, pencils and a calculator. I park in the far-off student parking lot (teachers get the best spots) and always take the stairs, my cast-iron pack lashed tight to my shoulders. I wear faded jeans and a hoodie and flip flops. I come into class and greet my fellow freshmen – large, often dangerous-looking boys with multiple tattoos and baggy jeans worn so low, they often miss their intended backsides altogether. Girls in skinny jeans and Uggs who flip their long hair around like a vigorous game of tetherball. Always prepared, I share with them pencils, Advil and the answers to last night's math homework.
It is an enviable position – like Switzerland. The professors like me because I do my work and participate enthusiastically in class. The kids are amused at having mom (or, in some cases, grandma!) in their class. I am the bridge between two warring factions – the kids, some of whom are only there because they could not get into any other school – and the teachers who are often fed up with such students and make no pretense at hiding their frustration.
Now, I have not been in a classroom since 1973. But what I lack in geometry recall, I all but make up for in U.S. history since I have been alive for much of it. I have a great great aunt who, as a child saw Abraham Lincoln. I remember where I was when President Kennedy was shot. I recall seeing Marilyn Monroe's picture on the front page the day after she died. I am learning a lot and enjoying the journey.
In their animated debate at Hofstra University (right next door to here) President Obama mentioned my school by name. The topic was, I believe, gun control, but it somehow veered off into talk about "educational opportunities for all Americans" and my college was the chosen reference point. I was excited that the president picked it and proud by association. Later I remember thinking about it and realizing that the 18 and 19-year-olds in my history class were just now joining the ranks of witnesses to the history their children would be studying not so many years from now.
History in hoodies. Yep. That's us.