Once, the “Gates of Knowledge” were opened wide to me, but I turned my back on them and walked away. Instead, I willfully crossed the “Gates of Life University,” but a diploma from the university of life came at a high cost—economic and emotional—and did not guarantee success in any specific field. Hard work and luck would. Of course, the former depended totally on me, the condition of my health, stamina, and dedication. The latter was totally providential.
Throughout my life, I never envied people who had money, beauty, or fame, but I did envy those who had benefited from higher education. I recognized that, because I had made wrong choices, to achieve success I needed either some credential in a specific trade or a diploma from a higher education institution. Since I had neither, I would have to work much harder toward getting some on-the-job experience. The slippery steps up the corporate ladder proved to be a fleeting sight of my unattainable goals. Eventually, I succeeded in becoming president of a small corporation, but that was not enough. I still craved to enter the world of academia.
In 1989, after a 20-year absence, I took the steps toward getting a college degree again, and tried to remedy the unfortunate decisions I had made long ago. With resolve, I pored over the prerequisites needed to unlock the receding “Gates of Knowledge.” I admitted that to register again was the golden key. Yet, the process seemed to be an overwhelming task. The registration office became the dreaded anteroom of what was otherwise a welcoming campus. The college web-site, an even more hopeless electronic mayhem, dissuaded me from even attempting. Thankfully, the counsellor’s office offered some relief from the new-student fever that I was enduring. Finally, I swallowed the pill and registered in the College English program. A Language Proficiency Index test (LPI) would assess my reading and writing proficiency in English. The idea of an entrance exam developed into a quasi-mortal disease. I asked to be excused from the examination room for a few minutes and found myself lying on the bathroom floor ready to pass out. I eventually finished writing the exam. After such traumatic time, the final diagnostic was pronounced and the result was a positive acceptance letter. I finally became a college student at 65 years of age.
As I walked from the parking lot to my first class, reminding myself that I was here to learn and that if I got C’s it would be fine, I met a young student (I almost want to write “girl,” she looked so young to me) who greeted me with a friendly “Good morning.” We started talking and eventually we became best friends. She was determined to get all As, and I thank her for her friendship and for showing me that it is important to aim high.
After five aborted attempts at entering the library, I timidly stepped into this place of learning: the library. Today, the library, my second home, is where I find the books and the help I need, where I do research, and where I meet with friends to exchange comments, information, and ideas. I spend so much time there that the desk closest to the librarian station is now known as “Gisèle’s office.” The VIU Writing Centre, where professors are available to review and discuss any of my writing projects, also offers valuable support and guidance. These dedicated professors give me encouragement and educated opinions about the topics that I am developing or the strength of the arguments I am defending. I remember many a day walking into the Writing Centre discouraged by the difficulties a paper presented and walking out with renewed energy after half an hour.
The Jumpin’ Java Coffee Shop, located at the entrance of the library building, started as a small outdoor kiosk and evolved into an oasis of comfort. Brian, the owner, has elected me his “best customer.” Of course, 24 semesters of extra-hot-fat-free mocha coffees without whipped cream would grant an A+ grade to any regular customer.
VIU is also known as the University by Mount Benson. But for any student who has walked up the 395 steps to the top building on a rainy day and found out that his or her class is located in the building at the bottom of the campus, it is the university on a mountain. Great exercise! Who needs to go to the gym?
I have spent 12 years, with a few years of travelling time in between, as a “senior student” at VIU. Thanks to the dedication of extraordinary instructors and professors and as the result of my own efforts, I have obtained a B.A. degree in Liberal Studies. Now, I am working towards a second degree with a minor in English and a minor in Creative Writing. My positive experiences as a senior student at VIU continue to satisfy my intellectual and social needs.
I have recently interviewed many young, mature, and older students asking them how they feel about having older students either in class or on campus and their comments were very positive. Mature students tell me that having still older people in class makes them feel better for not being the oldest. The seniors themselves admit that once on campus they forget their age and focus on learning and sharing with others. Only one older student admitted to having had some negative experiences. I have come to the conclusion that at times there are possibilities of personality conflicts in any situation. Every professor that I have spoken to concurred with this statement made by Professor Jeannie Martin: “Education is a great leveler. Age is irrelevant.”
Once the “Gates of Knowledge” are wide open and that you take your first difficult steps across the threshold, the experience of acquiring or completing your education develops into an incredible achievement at any age.