Starting College at Age 70

Note: This is a revision of a piece I wrote six years ago when I started college. I have edited it and revised a little but the principles are the same.

STARTING COLLEGE AT AGE 70

22, Oct 2013

Revised 5, Sept. 2019

Early this past spring, while enjoying an evening of solitude, I got to thinking about what I should do with the rest of my life. I had considered going into senior housing or a retirement center, but the idea troubled me. I asked myself was I really that ready to give up and surrender to old age? I could say I had a mental and emotional war with my feelings, but that would be a lie. I’ve been on my own since I was fifteen, the idea of giving up my freedom now was simply too terrifying to contemplate. So what can I do with all the free time and minimal funds I have? Then I remembered the words of one of the sweetest people I know, Jina, a Korean girl who, along with her husband Bin, had rented a room from me while she was completing her Master’s Degree at Washington University here in St Louis. She said, “Papa, you go to college. I be so proud of you!”

College? I’m thinking about starting college at age seventy? Last time I was a full-time student was in 1959 when I punched my English teacher for hitting me. I left school, and he got suspended. Now, fifty-four years later I’m thinking about fulfilling my dream of going to college full time. I may be crazy but hey, why not try it? Just no coed dorms and shower rooms, I’m too modest, and I’d be too much competition for the young dudes. This could be fun!

Feeling as though I was setting out on a long trek, my first step had been deciding to pursue my dream. The next was to acquire the means to. Step one was pretty easy, step two was going to be difficult, if not impossible, or so I thought. Being retired and living on just my social security check doesn’t leave me anything extra for frills such as an education. The weak economy had wiped out what little money I had saved, and I’m not named an heir in anyone’s will. Then how does an old man with no money find the funds to go to college? If he’s smart, he looks for the same resources a young man does. In my case, it was the Financial Aid section of the St Louis Community College website where I learned about FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). FAFSA is a gateway to many different sources of educational funding for students of all ages, and it was step two for me.

Basically, there are two ways to apply for FAFSA funding. The first is meeting with a financial aid advisor at the college and the second going online to the FAFSA website to apply. They both have advantages and disadvantages – I chose the website as it was more relaxed and I could go at my own pace. It took me about thirty minutes to complete the application, and an hour later, I received an e-mail notification that I had been approved for funding and assigned a student identification number.

Did I mention I did this at about midnight on a Saturday night? You read that right, I had taken a significant step towards realizing a lifelong dream on a Saturday night. I had no idea what I wanted to study, nor did I care at that moment, I just wanted to call somebody and shout it out, I AM GOING TO COLLEGE! Not a good idea, most of my friends are in bed at ten, so I chose option two, a bourbon Manhattan and the late news.

I had to wait until June to take step three, the ACT Compass evaluation testing. (I’ll cheat a little here and do a copy-paste so the information is correct.)

“ACT Compass is an untimed, computerized test that helps your college evaluate your skills and place you into appropriate courses. ACT Compass offers tests in reading, writing, math, writing essay, and English as a Second Language (ESL). You will receive your ACT Compass test results immediately upon completion of testing, and your score report will include placement messages informing you what courses you should take and how to register.” “ACT Compass is not used like a traditional test. There is generally no “passing score.” Rather, ACT Compass scores indicate areas in which you are strong and areas in which you may need help. Thus, ACT Compass can identify problems in major subject areas before they disrupt your educational progress, giving you the opportunity to prepare more effectively for needed courses. You and your institution can use scores from ACT Compass tests to prepare a course of study that will be appropriate, relevant, and meaningful for you.”

June arrived with the late rains of April and the ACT Compass evaluation test. I was in a state of nervous excitement as I went to the Assessment office, where I signed in and got instructions on what to do. Then a lady ushered me into a computer lab (a room which has desks with computers on each) and assigned me a seat. I’m not a computer geek nor do I type well, so I was very thankful the test was not timed. It was interesting though: easy to read, thorough and not graded. Once I was comfortable with the keyboard I dug my heels in and did my best. It took a while to complete, but that didn’t bother me, I was having fun and actually learning something new. When I was done, I had to wait while the lady printed out the results for me. My high school math scores were midline, college math was almost non-existent but English comprehension, and composition were 94 and 97 respectively. That took me completely by surprise.

Step four was Student Orientation day! Then came butterflies in the belly. The first significant challenge for me in college was: what do I wear to go to school? I’ve worn uniforms or work clothes all my life. I probably have only one nice shirt and pair of pants. How could I go to school and impress everyone if I wasn’t dressed cool? Scary as it sounds, I decided to just be myself but cleaner. Arriving on time, I found the conference room without a problem and immediately decide I’m the oldest person within a hundred miles. I see bright, shiny young faces everywhere. I knew they were all staring and talking about me I remember it. Oh well, I’m a pretty impressive guy, so I joined the throng, listened to the somewhat dull introduction, received the handouts and waited in line to see a counselor. When my turn came, I was asked what courses I planned to take, and I said, huh? I hadn’t considered exactly what classes I wanted to take, I was just happy to be invited to learn. We talked about my ACT Compass scores and what they felt I should do, I said ok, let’s do it. Next thing I knew I was sitting at a computer signing up for American History, Philosophy, Honors English and Algebra. I was committed or should have been. I hadn’t been a full-time student since 1959, and I had signed up for twelve credit hours of college? I hear Jina’s beautiful voice, “I’m so proud of you Papa!” That did it, bring it on.

My next stop was for my student ID card and parking permit. This was an easy one. I just needed to prove I was me, have my picture taken and sign all sorts of papers. My official ID card was mailed to my home in about three weeks. Final stop of the day was Financial Aid. I had come prepared with copies of my online applications and related confirmations. As I handed the paperwork to a pretty young lady at the front desk, she looked at me as though I were insane. “Your paperwork is all in perfect order! I just need you to sign two forms, and you’re done. Welcome to Meramec.” Guess I got that part right.

Walking out of the office, I felt a little overcome. After so many years my dream was close to becoming reality yet something seemed to be missing. I meandered around campus for a while orientating my mind and spirit to the alien environment. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would actually feel once I started classes, I just had to know what it felt like to walk on campus. Everything was so different and yet warm and inviting. I decided to just sit under a tree to watch people and listen to the wisdom of nature. As I sat there thinking, I noticed something to my right that seemed out of place. There, under a small bush, lay a weather-worn paperback book with torn cover. I picked it up to see if it had an owner’s name in it – nothing. A student needs books to help learn (insert light bulb here)! I am now a student, I need books so that I can learn!

Step five was the college bookstore, but I didn’t have the money to buy the books I needed, or so I thought. Since it didn’t cost anything to browse the shelves for the books I would need, that’s what I did. I could always come back when I had the money. As I was browsing a clerk offered her assistance. I told her I was a new student getting orientated and was looking for the books I needed for my classes. I showed her my class schedule, and she picked out those available. When I told her I didn’t have the money to pay for them yet, she asked me if I was getting financial aid. I said yes, and she asked to see my student ID card, which I didn’t have yet. Then she asked if I had a student ID number and that I had. She entered my student number in the bookstore computer system, and much to my amazement told me I was approved for a bookstore account which meant I could get books on credit until my financial aid funds were released at the end of the fifth week of class. All I needed was my official ID card, and that wouldn’t arrive for three weeks. I was both excited and a little disappointed. I wanted a textbook. I did have enough cash on me to purchase one of the required novels. So I did just that. Head high, shoulders back and proud as a peacock I strutted out of the bookstore holding my very own requisite college book. I was finally an official student.

Finally, step six was first day of class, and I was about as nervous as the Grand Dragon of the KKK at a Martin Luther King rally: I think I would fare better though. Walking into class, I got those stares, you know, the ones that said “what’s he doing here. Is he someone’s grandpa? Maybe he’s the janitor.” Nope, sorry kiddies, I’m a student too. In class, we did self-introductions just like back in the 1950s Each student said his/her name and maybe a little about themselves. My turn comes, and what do I say? Come on Papa, do the obvious, tell them what they’re wanting to know. “I’m Dick. I’m seventy years old, and I’m realizing a lifelong dream of going to college.” Reactions ranged from applause to stunned silence and a few, “No way man, you ain’t that old.” My favorite was the “Awesome dude!” Regardless what was said, the tone I felt was one of acceptance and warm greetings and it was genuinely Awesome Dude!

Step seven, at long last, I was in college and ready to learn. Unfortunately, I was learning things about myself that threatened to compromise my education. First is hearing, I am gradually going deaf. My hearing was damaged years ago when I worked as a paramedic/emergency vehicle driver. The driver’s cab of emergency vehicles was not insulated sufficiently to mute the sound of the sirens mounted on the roof, directly over our heads. No one thought of taking precautions to protect our hearing. I developed Meniere’s disorder, a fluid imbalance in the brain which presents as tinnitus, vertigo, and progressive hearing loss. Just when I have the chance to realize my dream it may not come because I couldn’t hear and couldn’t afford hearing aids. To my good fortune, the college has helpful people, and I was steered to the Access office where they do more than their best to help disabled students. The Access staff outlined what I had to do to get help. I needed doctor’s letter stating I have an impairment and current Audiograph test results to verify the primary diagnosis. Once everything was done and approved, they provided me with an electronic amplifier to use in classes and letters to each professor instructing them to work with me. Things were going good until another issue arose. I cannot do algebra. I carefully listen to the lectures, take copious notes, do as much of the homework as I can but cannot retain the formulas long enough to pass the quizzes and exams. Back to the Access office and this time it wasn’t so easy.

Short term memory loss is pretty common to all ages but increases as you grow older, what I’m experiencing isn’t the same. With short term loss we usually remember within a short time, not now, this time it’s a total block. As my doctor told me, “You may be experiencing a cognitive impairment. We need to set up an appointment with a Neuropsychologist for a complete evaluation.” Earliest I can get is 12/10/13, just before end of semester. The Access office can only give me limited assistance until a final diagnosis is made, I’m screwed in algebra. My hopes and dreams of becoming a space explorer are gone. But I refuse to give up trying.

Am I going to stop at step seven? No, each new challenge is a chance to learn something new. I came to school to learn. I am learning at school. I will remain in school to learn for as long as the Spirits allow me to. I’m a fighter! Today, if I were asked the most important thing I’ve learned in the process of starting college at my age, I would have to say – know yourself and do not be afraid to voice your limitations. If you are considering enrolling in college, please take the time to meet with the counselors in the Access Department well in advance of the start of classes to discuss your challenges and the support available to you.

It Was Not My Choice

From birth to death, we face myriad choices,

Do this, take that, disharmony of voices.

What child could learn, or man overcome,

Bedeviled by confusion from sun to sun?

A parent, a friend, relative or foe,

Appear to the weak, all others must know.

Yet into the world, free from their hold,

Each again faces “do as you’re told!”

A teacher, a boss, the cop on the corner,

All bow to their egos, none with clue warmer.

For fate is our Mistress, Karma her tool,

Discordance is manna, food of the fool.

Yet hope, like a candle, may lighten the night,

Guiding our fortunes, our futures soon bright.

From chaos emerging, comes loud, clear voice,

I fell in love with you, and it was not my choice.

For D C

Living Mitakuye Oyasin

A true story.   

At the turn of the 21st Century, I received my Social Security Disability which allowed me to stop living on the streets and get a place. I found a furnished room with bath and carport (I had no car), in the Casa Grande no-tell Motel on Rte 66 (Watson Rd.) in suburban St. Louis. It wasn’t the Days Inn, but it was out of the weather. The rules didn’t allow cooking in the rooms, so I got a small grill and put it in the carport, there to enjoy my grande cuisine; also got a microwave and small coffee pot.

The motel still exists; it’s on a business strip, heavily trafficked with a small creek and wooded area in the rear; probably more like a drainage ditch. I suspected there were raccoons and possum back there, so, rather than throw away foods I couldn’t eat, I would place it in a small dish I secured on a low tree limb. It worked; miraculously, every night, the food disappeared. Lol.

What I also began to notice was raccoon paw prints in my carport, so I got dry dog food and a couple of plastic bowls from the dollar store and put it out there and the miracle of miracles, every night the food disappeared All that remained was soggy crumbs in the water bowl.

Slowly, as the raccoons and I got accustomed to each other, I would leave my room door open while sitting just inside; there to watch the action. To say the least, it got interesting. I had eight regular visitors and a couple of party crashers. I tried getting them to wear name tags, but they refused to be labeled.

On the perimeter of my carport was a concrete curb. The side away from my door had bushes where the raccoons had blazed a trail to the food dishes. Almost as soon as the sun started going down, they would appear; most heading towards the food but one occasionally marching right into my door and checking things out. Then one night, she sat at the top of the curb trying to climb down, but her front paws weren’t working.

As I watched her struggle, she would look at me cautiously as if to say, “Will you harm me?” Using my walking stick, I put some food on the end and slowly pushed it her way. She was hungry but couldn’t feed herself. It was then that I noticed that both of her front arms were broken so I walked closer and put food within her reach.

In the morning, I called a friend who worked with wild animals and told her the story. That afternoon, she brought over a trap, and we set it up. The next morning, there was my little friend waiting patiently, as if to say, “About damn time you got up!”

We took her to the rescue center vet who operated, repairing both arms. The vet stated it appeared she had attempted to climb into a dumpster when the heavy open top flew over and smashed her arms before she could avoid it. I think the operation took about six hours. When done, the vet said he wasn’t sure it was going to work, but hoped so.  He kept her for a few days of observation then released her to my friend who would nurse her. She also paid the $ 6,000.00 vet bill.

Following about four weeks of recovery, she was fit enough to leave so we took her back home and released her. She stayed close then one night didn’t come. She was gone for maybe four weeks when she suddenly reappeared at my door with four little ones in tow. They walked up to me as if to say “Hi, gramps, we’re home.” No fear, no anger just as if they always belonged.

It was a reminder that Mitakuye Oyasin is real.

Assume

Let’s break down the word assume: Ass U Me. How’s that sound now?

Sounds to me like you and I are both asses if we assume, but we do it, almost every day of our lives. Ever wonder why that is?

My guess, based on my experience and obvious lack of information along the way, is that we’re too easily influenced by hype, need for acceptance and just plain lazy asses.

I have, or I should say had, because I think they disowned me for reasons they either refuse to state or seem to have some form of proof of my guilt, in either case, none that I know of are aware of the big picture, but they assume I am guilty as charged.

I will be the first to admit there are issues, many of which I’m guessing none of these assumptive rejectionists are well informed about, nor do they care to be. What they do care about it their ability to speak freely on matters pertaining to me as though they are experts on my life and philosophy.

What fools we be, to bend the knee, and blindly reject what we refuse to see.

I’ve learned that through writing and, probably more importantly, editing, the value of citations (aka cites) to substantiate a point; example:

“Jimmy stole Johnnie’s laptop! He should be arrested!”

First question that comes to my mind now is, how do you know this is true?

“Umm, er, ahh, well Johnnie told me.”

Second question, how does Johnnie know?

“I dunno, but he said he did.”

Pretty classic assumption on the part of junior, but not provable in court, unless of course, Johnnie has a pic, a recording, or a witness, all of which are, in essence, citations.

Had junior said, Johnnie said, “Sally saw Jimmy take his laptop, you would have a citation.” (OMG, I’m dating myself with those names; can’t wait to mention Spot.)

The issue is this, an assumption is nothing more than unproven idea based on no facts.

In writing, especially college level, citations are critical to every paper a student may write. If you’re quoting (citing) a comment in a book, you need to identify the book, author, page(s) and other information that allows the reader to access your proof.

In a court of law, what is a witness? Basically, a witness is a living citation. (I’m stretching the definition, but hey, if you’re starting to understand better, it’s worth it.

So let’s take this a step further with Credible Citations. Obviously, in our little scenario, Johnnie is not a very credible witness cause he “dunno.” He is assuming, not proving his claim.

In writing, one must employ credible citations or risk being challenged for plagiarism (stealing someone else’s ideas, work, etc.) which can destroy your hopes of ever being truly believable.

Would this be a credible citation: “Sally said, Johnnie said Jimmie took his laptop?” Nope, why look at the spelling of Jimmy. Small error, but a critical one, especially in court.

How about this one: Sally said Jimmy showed her his “new” laptop and she saw Johnnie’s name scratched on the bottom. Yes, you have witness and source point for verification.

The same principle holds true when writing example: “We have only just begun to fight.” With the quotation marks, we are claiming it as a direct quote, not an assumption. Now we need to show who or what we’re citing and where we got it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 31, 1936, https://patriotpost.us/documents/284. This is a very simple format, college level formats are more detailed, but it gives you a path to the statement.

Learning to cite, or if you prefer, quote people, places or things in your life decreases a tendency to assume facts are true, rather than proving them because assuming makes an ASS of U and ME.

Assumptions are the tools of the trade for those wanting to control people. “You must believe me because I know everything.” But cannot prove anything but you must assume I do.

Everyday, I hear people demanding we make assumptions on matters because their information comes from polls, experts and people who know. What pools, what experts and what people, they rarely provide those details.

I think the most tragic and demoralizing display of assumption by propaganda came with the attack on the Covington Catholic High School student who simply stood and smiled at someone harassing him, and his fellow students. Allegedly, through the use of well edited video, propagandists manipulated the situation to make it appear that the student was the culprit in this incident. As a result, assumptions were made by many radical extremists that the high schools kids were at fault and threats were made against them. Thankfully, an unedited version of the incident showed that the high school students neither physically nor verbally assaulted anyone but, because the original edited video was shown by mainstream media without citation, it was assumed to be correct and the threats keep coming.

The result of these assumptions may affect innocent people for years to come. It could have been avoided, but no wanted to verify until it was too late.

Wednesday

Question is it pronounced Wed nes day or Wendsday? 

Answer, does it really matter now? 

I guess it does matter to word perfectionists and “English” professors, but to the average American, I doubt it because it’s a dialectic and idiolectic thingy.

Dialect and Idiolect – two pretty cool words, but what do they have to do with how to pronounce Wednesday. 

Glad you asked!

I often see posts on Facebook telling people to vote to make English the official language of the USA and I wonder. I wonder why we would want to make a foreign language our official one? 

We, in the United States of America and it’s territories speak American English, not the Queen’s English of England. We gave that up long ago.

Last year, while helping a student with his dissertation on the topic of English as a Second Language (ESL), I did a little research of my own. I discover that there are over 1500 known dialects of English in the world ranging from the “Queen’s English” in the halls of Buckingham Palace to the Zulu English spoken in the Natal of Africa. In continental America alone, there are 350+ dialects from the Yankee northeast states to the Hispanic influenced Southwest and from the Scandinavian influenced North Central to the Creole in the south, America is an amalgam of languages and cultures.

Want to add some fun to that?

How many Idiolects do you think there are in continental America? 

Well, as of 2017, there are an estimated 325.72+ million people in America. That figure includes all 50 states and the American territories. 

Are you ready for this? Fact: America has 325.72+ oral idiolects.  Each and every one of us speaks in a distinctive manner; the way we pronounce or slur our words, our choice of words and even swearing. 

Never before have our dialect and idiolects been more important than today in our electronic age where voice recognition is becoming vital to our security. 

My conclusion is, let’s make American English our official language! 

Monday – why I do not hate Mondays!

Ok, so I sound strange. “Everybody hates Mondays, dude! What’s wrong with you?” 

Umm, does the word different explain anything to you? 

I am different, unique, special and guess what? There’s only one person on this planet with my DNA to prove it.

“We get it!, but, how can you be different and not be a Democrat?” (I was actually asked this question.)

“We Democrats are all free-thinkers, each special in his or her own way. We do not adhere to the fascistic commands of the orange-head in our WH!”

The only part of that comment I agree with is “special in his or her own way..” You got me there guys, but the remainder is about as logical as me trying on Speedos. It ain’t gonna work, no way, no how!

Therein lies my argument with the philosophy of the Democrat automatons. 

I love this definition of a “free-thinker” from the Urban Dictionary: 
“One who relies solely on themselves to make judgments based on their own perception of the world rather than blindly accepting what is told or implied by an outside influence, which is usually some kind of authoritarian figure.”

“Usually associated with non-conformists…Very few people in this world have realized that they have access to and the ability to perform independent thought. While everyone has the ability, only the freethinker uses it, because he knows what he wants.” (Chesterfield, 2016)

The Democrat leadership propagandizes this philosophy of having free-thinks lead the party, but it’s a lie. No political correctness allowed: it’s a flat outright lie. It’s as though the rank and file Democrats believe in one form of Democracy while their leadership believes in another.

Now, that said, what the hell does this have to do with my liking Mondays?

So glad you asked! 

On Monday mornings I pick up a case of fresh fruit at Sam’s to take to the Student Assistance office at my Alma mater, Meramec Community College in Kirkwood, MO. When I arrive at school I am always greeted by beautiful, young faces of youth who strive hard every day to succeed in college and get ahead but battling the problems of poverty.

I see blacks, white, Asian, Native Americans with various disabilities lining up to get to class on time to learn! There are young adults confined to wheelchairs due to conditions beyond their control who ask nothing more than a chance to learn and excel. Each and every one of these young people is marching to his or her own band; free-thinkers not chained to ideology, nor restricted by politics. 


For me, Mondays are my refueling days; the time when I recharge my batteries with the help of these energetic leaders of tomorrow.