“Greetings, fellow students.”
Never have those words carried as much meaning to me as they do these days. You see, I am one of a number of Penn State University students referred to as "adult learners." Adult learners are essentially students who are over the age of 25 and either attending college for the first time or returning to school after a substantial hiatus in order to complete or broaden their education. The latter applies in my case, though few other students I interact with are aware of this since I appear younger than my actual age — not that I have any complaints.
Years ago, when I first attended college soon after high school, I was a very unfocused and uncommitted student in that I had the desire to begin great things but not necessarily the drive to finish them. While I enjoyed being around others with interests similar to my own, I found myself unable and sometimes unwilling to absorb much of what was being taught, regardless of the course. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that leaving school was the best course of action for me.
Years later, following my lengthy recess from academia and having garnered numerous important life experiences, I chose to apply to Penn State after doing some research on the university's exceptionally rated film program, as over the years I had developed a serious desire to pursue a career in filmmaking.
I also found myself glad for the chance to move to the same state as my mother for the first time in many years. One of the best days of my life was when I received my acceptance letter to PSU during the summer of 2010.
Becoming a full-time student later in life has been challenging in a number of ways — but probably least of all in how I have been able to connect with my classmates.
Despite the age gap and my newly acquired status as an adult learner, rarely have I felt like an outsider, especially among fellow film students. But it stands to reason that when students are together in a classroom sharing many of the same future interests and goals, age is seldom, if ever, an issue.
If age is acknowledged at all it is done so in a positive way. Older students may bring a valuable level of wisdom and life experiences to the table during the learning process, while their younger counterparts often provide energy and excitement that never seems to dissipate, which is inspiring as well as encouraging. And of course it does not hurt that the younger generation tends to be the most adept at embracing new technology — a huge bonus as a film major, when you are someone who never heard of Final Cut Pro until a few years ago.
Nonetheless, there may be an exclusive sort of kinship among adult learners since older students would likely relate to each other on a maturity level different from that of their younger school peers.
Each semester, Penn State hosts events strictly for adult learners so that they may have the chance to meet and socialize.
While participating in a focus group for PSU adult learners earlier this year, I discovered a network of fellow students whose ages ranged from 30 to 60 and with whom I enjoyed sharing stories of how exciting it was to be college students again after a long hiatus but with a whole new attitude and maturity this time that many of us did not possess before.
I appreciate my education now more than ever and am able to extract so much from my coursework in a way that I could not have years earlier.
Although technically we are all learning adults, I am pleased at this point in my life to be referred to as an adult learner.
However, I am most contented when simply referred to as a “fellow student.”
Erin King is a senior majoring in film and video and is The Daily Collegian’s Monday columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.