At 61, going back to school wasn’t even on my bucket list, so it felt more than a little strange to be unpacking my clothes and putting them into dresser drawers in my dorm room. Still, I’d found a program so compelling I was willing to take the leap.
Granted, it was a low-residency graduate program, the up-and-coming thing in master’s programs, which meant it wouldn’t be my year-round home, but I was still nervous. When I found a seat in the lecture hall the first morning, I didn’t feel much calmer. Although some of the students around me had gray hair, too, most were 30-somethings with sleek laptops plugged into outlets on the lecture tables. I glanced down at my black and white composition notebook — where I had planned to write my class notes — and suddenly felt even older than I was.
My program admitted a new class every year, but both first- and second-year students met together for most classes. The second-year students were already well-acquainted. They immediately began discussing writers I knew only vaguely, recounting their frustrations with projects and assignments, laughing grimly about long weekends of research and revisions. They treated each other like old friends. I felt alone.
I glanced down at my black and white composition notebook — where I had planned to write my class notes — and suddenly felt even older than I was.
I tried to focus on what our professor talked about that morning, but self-doubt crept in around the edges. This was a graduate writing program, but it seemed like all of the people around me were already accomplished journalists. I had spent my career teaching journalism at the college level, waiting for retirement to pursue my own writing more seriously. As I walked to the cafeteria for lunch that first day, I began to seriously question whether I would succeed in the program and wondered if I should have stuck with taking workshops back home.
I was staring glumly at my salad when two women in their early 30s came up and asked if they could join me. I don’t even remember what we talked about beyond each sharing our personal story, but we walked to our afternoon class together and chatted as if we were old friends. After an evening workshop that night, they introduced me to another woman who was new, like me, and I introduced them to my roommate.
It turns out they were all nervous, too, and we each shared our own fears about feeling out of our element. I pushed myself to move past my insecurities and asked them for advice about finding agents and publishers. Much to my surprise, many of them were getting master’s degrees so they could teach writing at the college level, so they had plenty of questions for me as well. Each of us knew about something we could share with the others, which gave us common ground despite our age differences. It was the start of friendships we’re still enjoying nearly four years later.
There I sat, 65 years old, with three women in their 30s and 40s, but in our connection we were all the same age.
Just this weekend, three of us traveled from our towns around the country to the home of one of our former fellow students. There I sat, 65 years old, with three women in their 30s and 40s, but in our connection we were all the same age. They were as interested in the writing work I was doing as I was in theirs. We all had praise and suggested edits for each other, all equally valuable.
I thought back on myself on that first day in class, as shy as a third grader who has started a new school midyear, and I laughed to myself. Going back to school in my 60s serves as the perfect symbol for me now as I approach each adventure in life.
We really are never too old to do something new, but always the perfect age to take the next step.