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Starting College Later in Life

Updated on April 4, 2011
College Graduation
College Graduation

Any Place in College for a Grandpa?

Let us put our hands together to welcome on stage a distinguished and respected retired pilot- our very own 2006 valedictorian, Mr. Howard Smith, as he presents us with this year’s valedictory speech.

It is with humility, gratitude and great joy that I stand before you today to present the 2006 Valedictory Speech for Eastgate University. I am truly humbled by the opportunity to be this year’s valedictorian. I am extremely proud to have been part of this University and part of the Faculty of Civil Engineering; and I am tremendously honored to be in the company of such great people today.

My four year journey through the undergraduate program has not been the typical journey of the average undergraduate student. While most of my fellow classmates started their freshman year around the age of 18, my journey began at 65. I am happy to say that I have made it through; but notably, this would have been impossible without the support of each and every one of my professors, my classmates, my wife and my beautiful children.

But what really has me standing here before you today? A DREAM- A dream that I decided to follow, a dream that I insisted I will not give up on irrespective of the difficulties I encountered…….a dream that lead me to believe in me.

During my first week at University, I recall sitting at my desk asking myself, “Howard, why are you fooling yourself, why are you really here?” Surrounding me was a class of 42 young fresh faces, the same faces I see before me today, and the same faces that will be part of my story forever. Call me fortunate, call me charismatic, call me blessed….for I never imagined that I would have been so well received by each and every one of you, I never thought that the world was made of so many gracious and considerate young men and women, I would have never thought that I had enough years left on this planet to make 42 new friends. Granted, this came with its occasional jab, as Ravi will often say to me, “Howard, take the final decision on this one…….you don't wear that white hair of wisdom for nothing”

Howard went on to speak about his experiences through his sophomore, junior and senior years. He then concluded as follows:

“So tonight I thank you, I thank you Chancellor Murry for being such an inspiration to all students at this University, I thank all of the Professors for being so supportive and knowledgeable on their subject matter, and I thank my fellow classmates for continuously challenging me along the way. We will all have our dull moments, and our moments where we shine. So, to each and every senior person out there who is thinking about returning to College to pursue a degree, I am shining here today for all of you, I stand here to show you what belief in yourself can do. I accepted the opportunity to be Valedictorian of the year so that I could be an example to you all- WE dictate the channels that we pursue in life, WE create the energy to take us through those channels, and each and every day of our lives, WE create the stuff that dreams are made of.

Thank you”

Paraphrased above, is the Valedictorian speech given by one of my very first students whom I met during my stint as a University Lecturer. It is also one that I will never forget. When I first met Howard, I had just completed my Masters Degree, and was young enough to be his granddaughter. I would never forget the look on his face when he came up to me during his first week at University and said…..”Professor, I know in the usual setting you will be the student and I will be the professor, but is there any advice you can give me as I embark on my journey through this course?”

Howard was in fact a retired pilot who excelled in his profession through short courses and experience. He never had a degree, and between his job and his family life, he never managed to get the time to pursue the degree in Civil Engineering that he so longingly dreamed of. When he retired from his job as an International Pilot, he decided to pursue his dream.

At the age of 65 Howard was fit as a fiddle. He ate well, he exercised, he studied hard and he played hard. I watched him as he made friends with the students and as he interacted with his Professors. He took pride in all of the papers that he handed in, and persevered to be a steady A- student throughout his 4 years at University. By watching his growth as a student, and from the many conversations I had with Howard, I have made a few conclusions for myself that I will like to share with older individuals who wish to pursue college degrees later in life:

  • Before you start the degree program, be sure that you are enthusiastic about your degree of choice. Every student has bumpy stages, and it can become even more trying for individuals who have been out of the “studying phase” for a period of time. When all else seems to fail, it is usually the love and enthusiasm for the subject matter that will keep you afloat.
  • Be sure that you have time in your life for college. If you are too busy and have too many distractions, your college experience can be very burdensome.
  • Do not be afraid to interact with the students because they are younger than you are: If you act old, they will treat you as such. Keep in mind that irrespective of your age, the ultimate purpose of attending college is to graduate with a degree- something you will have in common with everyone else at the college or university that you attend.
  • Choose your friends wisely. Try to hang out with students who will keep challenging your abilities. That will keep you motivated and focused.
  • Form good relationships with your Professors, and do not be afraid to visit them when problems arise.
  • Stay organized. Organize your notes and your time without fail. If you wait for just before an exam to get your studying material together, and to get explanations for your problems, you will be in danger.
  • Believe in yourself. It does not matter what anyone thinks of you, or your age. People will have many questions to ask about your age- that you cannot avoid. However, what you can control is the way you project yourself-keeping a positive attitude and being warm to the people you interact with will create some positive energy around you.
  • Be healthy. Find time to exercise and eat foods that will nourish and stimulate your brain.

I hope this article will be of help to any of you out there hoping to pursue a degree at a later stage of your life. Howard once said to me……”They were younger and bursting with energy, but I was wiser; I understood the little underpinnings that they neglected and their energy kept my heart young. I feel like my life has just begun……do you happen to have a job in your lab for me Professor?”

And I did……………….


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