Saturday, December 3, 2011

Back to School for Grandma

Once upon a time, college students were young, rosy-cheeked kids, barely old enough to vote and still dependent on Dad for a monthly stipend, delivered by an actual postman.  I know--I was there.

These days, college students come in all shapes and ages, including grandmas.  Yep, I’m still here.

Those of us on the 30-year plan are trekking across campus alongside those fresh-faced kids.  Two of them are mine.  I once joked that I would graduate from college with my kids, but who’s laughing now?  I’m older than most of my classmates’ parents and I expected to be greeted with rolling eyes, just like at home.  I had nightmares of sitting on a stool at the front of the class with a tall, pointed hat.
Boy, I was wrong.  No one even blinks an eye when I walk into class and sit next to them.  In fact, I’ve actually been invited to be in study groups.  I guess wrinkles make you look smart.
Middle-aged adults are returning to college in increasing numbers, lugging backpacks and cramming for midterms.  The number of college and university students age 35 and older has soared from about 823,000 in 1970 to an estimated 2.9 million in 2001 — doubling from 9.6% of total students to 19.2%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Phyllis Reffo is one of us.   After two years at a junior college, this 49-year-old applied at several universities and was accepted by all of them.  She picked Pepperdine where she is working on her bachelor degree.  Oh, did I mention she’s on the swim team?   A former runner, she turned to swimming to keep in shape after several injuries.  A swim coach spotted Reffo and asked her to try out for the team.  And it’s not just her time that is getting attention.  A former model, she is turning plenty of younger heads.  In her swim team photo, Reffo blends in with her teenage teammates.  Try Googling her—she’s the tall, sculpted one in the swimsuit.  
Reffo swims the breaststroke and individual medleys, fitting in classes, homework and time for her 12- and 14-year-old daughters.  She is proving that going back to school is easier than ever.  There are re-entry services and financial aid and online classes make scheduling a snap.  I juggle homework around carpools and track meets.
So the only thing I’ve got on Reffo is the fact that I have a grandbaby and Reffo doesn’t.  Well, I don’t swim either, but that’s beside the point. 
I bet my backpack is just as heavy as hers.

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