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Age does not discriminate in college

I was a little nervous when I started my college experience at USF. Not because I was leaving high school friends behind, learning that living on my own is expensive or that college requires a lot of work. My nervousness came from knowing I am a lot older than most USF students.

How would I fit in as a 30-something on a campus made up of young college students, some not even old enough to drink? Would I be able to trade a career with a steady paycheck for the tedium and uncertainty of three years of seemingly never-ending studies? These were the questions I faced when I made the decision to return to school.

They say age is only a number. Walking into a classroom of freshmen gave me a culture shock; luckily I was a quick study. I realized that in addition to MTV not showing music videos anymore, there are mind-numbing reality shows students watch. I now know that My Super Sweet 16 is about kids surrounded by way too much money and Laguna Beach is just a soap opera set in a really cool area of the country.

I also learned that in today’s instant gratification society, some students can be downright apathetic about the world around them. Sure, we are busy and being on a commuter campus makes things even more hectic. There is, however, an off-campus world full of news, events and hot-button issues that are going to impact our future.

It’s so important to have an opinion about the world around us. Indifference can result in contentment and contentment is the enemy of change. Make a judgment on whether Jennifer Porter should have gotten prison time, if Hillsborough County schools should have a secular school calendar or whether you think University administration is doing a good job. All these issues don’t have right or wrong answers but their implications are far-reaching.

Just because I’m older doesn’t mean I know all the answers – far from it. I struggle in the same classes as you do, probably more so as my memory seems a little slower and the learning curve a little steeper. I too have had my share of cramming for tests, as well as the feeling of being drained to the point of exhaustion after exams. I too have changed my major since coming here, and still wonder what I will do after graduation. In some ways, being older creates more questions, not fewer.

But I have to say that being older has provided a good deal of perspective on the financial burden of a college education. Graduating from a magnet high school used to be somewhat infrequent. Though the curriculum taught ‘college, college, college,’ it just wasn’t for me when I graduated. So, I joined the Marine Corps and diligently saved my re-enlistment bonuses until the time was right to leave the service and finish the degree I started while on active duty. Now when I pay the tuition bills, I realize the true cost – and the true value – of education.

I’ve also learned how amazingly intelligent, productive and motivated most students are. Enterprising students find ways to succeed. While many in my classes work part- or full-time jobs, they still find the time to learn new concepts, complete group projects and balance complicated social lives, all while excelling in their classes.

Certainly there are some older students on campus, although I haven’t met any of them. Quite honestly, one of the most exciting parts of commencement is hearing the age of the oldest student to graduate. The year I came here, the oldest graduate was 79. No doubt that individual had life perspective to bring to campus.

Above all, though, being an older student on campus has allowed me to be more accepting of those who may be different than me. We may have different geographical upbringings, ideologies and yes, even ages, but our general goal is the same — that of securing a good education to ensure a better future.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.