Life as a mature student on campus

By Kristy Milland (Special to The Ryersonian) 

“Excuse me, may I ask you a few questions?”

As I walk down the hallway in Ted Rogers I hear this query, but it is not directed towards me.

The two girls with a camera and microphone have asked the person in front of me, but as I walk by, they are silent.

And as soon as I pass, they ask the student behind me.

This is the story of my life as a mature student at Ryerson.

I am overlooked in the hallways, yet stick out like a sore thumb in class. At 34, I am old enough to be a mother to the bulk of the students in my classes, but that does not mean that I am someone who takes kindly to being classified as too old to count.

Before I became a full-time psychology student in fall 2013, I attended an English course run by the Chang School.

Most of the people in that class were in their twenties or older.

As my psychology professor would say, we shared a cohort, meaning our view on life was similar, and it showed.

We understood the same pop culture jokes, had the same work ethic and all appreciated school as the foundation of our future.

This bolstered our camaraderie and left me hopeful about what my university experience would be like once I was attending Ryerson as a full-time student.

But after I enrolled as a full-time student, things changed.

On my first tour of the campus, the guides asked my 15-year-old daughter what degree she was pursuing; they were shocked when she pointed out that her mother was the future student.

When I arrived to my introductory courses, I was confronted with a sea of young people with whom I shared little in common.

The seat next to me was always empty, and when I tried to strike up a conversation, I was met with uncomfortable smiles.

It seemed like it would be much harder for me to integrate into this crowd than I had anticipated.

When I tell people that I am attending university, they respond in shock. “At your age?” they ask with a gasp.

What they may not realize is that coming back to school at an advanced age offers so many opportunities.

At 18, I certainly could not have made a decision on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

But now, I have experienced a variety of careers and I know which appeals to me the most.

I am mature enough to pay attention, strong enough not to let a little failure get me down, and financially secure enough not to go into debt to attain my degree.

“Have you voted in the Ryerson senate elections yet?” Of course, the candidate isn’t asking me.

I am just a middle-aged mom who seems to be out of place standing here in the hall.

He asks the group to my right, the group across from me, and the group to my left, but overlooks me.

I am dressed in jeans and a hoodie, standing against a wall with my nose in a textbook.

I certainly do not look like a professor, but I don’t think he can wrap his head around me being a student either.

This leaves me feeling like a minority in this student body, and I truly am.

In fact, it is so obvious that I am out of place that just telling a fellow student over Facebook that I am the oldest in the class allows them to pick me out instantly, which has happened multiple times. I do not have grey hair, nor wrinkles, nor a cane.

But one mention of my age and they can tell me which seat I occupied in the last lecture.

How can I stick out so much and yet be ignored time and time again?

In 2012, Ryerson had a Mature Students Association, complete with an executive committee, events and meetings.

Its website has many photos displaying both the educational and entertaining events they held, enough to entice me to join.

Sadly, my emails were returned undeliverable.

The group appears to be defunct, and no one at Ryerson whom I asked could point me to any groups which brought students such as myself together.

If you come from another country, or practise a certain religion, or even participate in role playing games, there is a club, group or association for you at Ryerson.

Mature students, on the other hand, are left out in the cold.

That said, I am blessed to have one special professor who appreciates what I am going through and offers me all the help I want.

I have lucked into meeting a few students who I can sit with in class, text with after class and even vent to about my experiences.

While my studies are much harder without the extra services and support available to other students, I will use that frustration to push myself more fervently toward my goals.

Remember, whenever you need a vote, a signature for your petition, or someone to interview for your video, do not judge a book by its cover.

You never know when the one person who would make your project complete is the “middle-aged” person walking by.

Talk to them, you might be pleasantly surprised.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 9, 2014.

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