My wife and I attended her 20-year high school class reunion this past weekend, and I was struck at how the conversation was, more often than not, centered around how “old” everyone was, looked, or felt. Having worked in higher education for more than 15 years, the last 11 in student activities, I am constantly told that my job must “keep me young” due to my daily interaction with 18-21 year-olds. While this may be true in the broader sense – I certainly know more about popular culture, music, social media, and other fads than most other 40-somethings – there are some distinct milestones in every higher ed professional’s career that sparks that “God, I’m OLD” sentiment. Some of these milestones I’ve already experienced, while others are not too far away. For those of you that are just getting into higher ed, you have been warned…the dark bouquets of “over the hill” balloons are lurking just around the corner.
Milestone #1 – Everything is going great until you see an admissions file, BANNER entry, or orientation registration for a student that was BORN THE YEAR YOU GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL! Believe me, this is a shock to your system. You will check and recheck the data to make sure there’s not a typo. You will do the math just to see if it’s possible or if this particular student is really a child prodigy entering college at age 10. But alas, you will have to come to grips that this incoming freshman was a newborn when you were gleefully tossing your mortarboard hat in the air in a football stadium somewhere.
Milestone #2 – Just as you’ve recovered from the shock that your current students could have been born in the bathroom at your high school prom, you get the double-whammy when the new freshmen applicants include birthdates that coincide with the year you graduated college! It can’t be possible that your undergraduate days that you reminisce about and still use as examples, metaphors, and teaching points for students that come to your office was THAT long ago? But I was just an undergrad myself, you will think. What kind of time warp have I stumbled into?
Milestone #3 – For most, those first two milestones are pretty close together, and for some, this third milestone may not be too far behind. You are working an Orientation session, and you see the young face of a student that you SWEAR you’ve seen before or the recognition triggers that feeling of déjà vu. After racking your brain, checking their file or directory information, and even speaking to the student, you still can’t place where you think you might know them. Until their parent walks up to you and says “Hi!”…and it’s someone you went to high school with! Yes, their college-age child looks exactly like they did from your high school memories. After stammering through the awkward greeting and short reconnection with this old friend, your immediate reaction is, “You CAN’T have a child old enough to attend college! There’s no way we are old enough to have kids that grown up!” But alas, the math once again checks out.
Milestone #4 – Depending on your own family-building and child-rearing timeline, the next milestone is typically the last one to hit you before your own children start to reach the age of college admission. Granted, this one doesn’t seem to be as hard-hitting or shocking as the previous three milestones but it is a bit sad in a nostalgic parental sort of way. Your own age becomes a reality and maybe even depressingly obvious with this milestone – when you see students coming into your college that are friends with your own kids. Whether they be neighborhood kids, children from church, or boys and girls that played on youth sports teams with your own children…the realization that the peers of your rug-rats are beginning to enter college gives you a stark realization that the empty nest is approaching.
Milestone #5 – If you remain in higher ed long enough that your own children are now applying for colleges, looking for scholarships, and deciding on where they want to visit, a strange transformation sometimes happens. After years of combating helicopter parents, higher ed professionals find themselves trying not to become what they hate. After all, WE know all the tips, tricks, allowances, and accommodations out there…we know what rules can be bent, what policies have loopholes, and what red-tape can be cut. What’s wrong with using that knowledge to help the fruit of our loins navigate the path to matriculation? Try to resist the temptation to be THAT PARENT we all have stories about, after all, by this point we are old enough to know better.
What has been your “Man, I’m OLD!” moment while working in higher education?