I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Who is that woman sitting alone? I am not your typical fresh-faced, eager college student experiencing academia for the first time. I do not have that excited amazement wondering what life has to offer. I don’t even have a peer-group my age. I probably graduated high school with the parents of my classmates. I have daughters who are closer in age and have more in common with the people seated around me in the classroom. Why am I here? I have found empowerment and self-worth studying English at Western Illinois University.
I chose an English major my first semester at WIU-QC. Having spent the past twenty years married and raising children, I felt unaccomplished, unappreciated, and worthless. Sitting in my first English class I felt out of place and nervous. Looking around the room I found not one person with whom I could identify. I was ready to give up my dream of a degree in the first week of class, facing the fear of ostracism. Then I found the literature. In that first English class I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and recognized my life. Without mental stimulation I, like Jane, was destined for a destructive emotional break. The journal entries of Jane’s growing depression and resulting social fear was a concept I related to wholeheartedly. That short story, read in a Gothic Introductory to Fiction class, reminded me why I so badly wanted this degree.
My age and life experiences allowed me to interpret and make thesis arguments a young student would not understand. I learned about literature. I spoke about literature. I shared my opinions and personal interpretations of literature. I was given an opportunity to discuss my thoughts on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and someone actually listened. My opinion had value. I wrote a paper which explained that opinion, and used quotes from the fiction as evidence of my interpretation. It was then I realized the function and purpose of an English major and recognized something I absolutely appreciated. I felt a whole new world opened for me.
As a non-traditional English student I not only juggle the many reading and writing assignments for my class load but also a job, children, housework, and have recently ended a twenty-two year marriage. For an older non-traditional student (above age 45) comes the additional stress of time. Seeking an English degree, with sight set on advanced graduate level and teaching adult education, becomes a race against the clock. The constant concern of, “by the time I graduate I’ll be…(whatever my reply)” creates an added pressure to succeed. Being late to the game does not offer room for repeating classes. Being an older college student I have to follow a plan-of-action; and reaching my goals on deadlines becomes the driving force. I have wasted too much time as it is and can’t afford to frivolously interrupt my education once again. I have little patience with the younger students treating their educations lightly. I wish I had their youth to do over.
I am the oldest student in class. I sit in the front to absorb every word spoken. I am excited to answer questions and share my opinions because for years I was denied a venue to express myself at all. I write papers I take pride in, which are submitted on time, if not early, because I am committed to my deadlines. I’m not sitting in class to make life-long friends, or look for a love interest. I am there for the education. I am a no-nonsense, older, non-traditional English student.