Letter to the Editor: The gray-haired gopher

Letter to the Editor

It was almost serendipitous that I stumbled upon the Senior Citizen Education Program. There it was in an article about great education benefits for us older people. It doesn’t take much to explain SCEP: any Minnesota resident over the age of 62 can audit a class at the University of Minnesota for free or take classes for credit at a ridiculously low tuition rate. I love a challenge and I love to learn, so I immediately completed the online application and became a gray-haired Gopher.

SCEP allows me the opportunity to spend my “golden years” immersed in historical study at the definitive level under the guidance of qualified historians. A bachelor’s degree in history from the University would mean far more than my first bachelor’s (a bachelor’s in business communication from Augsburg University) because it would stem from being directed, challenged and mentored by a world-class faculty in a subject I truly love.  

Have you ever walked into a room where you were the only one of your kind, like the only one of your race or gender? That’s the way it is for a senior citizen student every time they walk into a classroom. The University needs to do a much better job of helping us help each other by way of introduction at orientation. Eliminate that discomfort. We love being around you and learning with and from you, the traditional aged student. We contribute to the diversity of this institution, yet we don’t feel included.

Once we are on campus, there also is absolutely no senior citizen specific support network — we really are on our own. There are literally hundreds of student organizations on campus but, guess what? Not a single one for the senior citizen student. Our needs are not that different from other students, but it is always easier when you do need help that you get help from someone your own age, someone who can identify with your experience.

You’ve all been in a class with an older student. Think about that older woman who was in one of your classes. She’s probably someone’s grandma. Let’s just say, for the moment, she was your grandma. How would you like your fellow students to treat your grandma? Just a “hi,” or a conversation tells us we’re accepted here. We can work out the details of building a campus support system and getting incorporated into orientation. In the meantime, all we want is to be accepted. We just want to spend a few of our “golden years” as golden Gophers.

This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style. 

Tom Anderson is a retired 3M National Sales Manager. He is pursuing a second bachelor’s in history.