I’m not ageist, but…

Due to a large influx of complaints, my face had to be censored

Last semester, I decided to make a friend. We didn’t like the same bands, read the same books, or support the same footy team. But we still shared something special.

Together, we detested mature age students.

We hated the way they struggled with simple technology. We hated the way they sucked up to staff with their ultra-organised routines. We hated the way they took over tutorial rooms, let alone lecture theatres, with their high-and-mighty beliefs.

The mutual hate united us.

Then I discovered he was thirty.

Despite his age, his baldness or his capacity to grow credible facial hair, my new friend was an alright dude. Yet this solitary experience wasn’t enough for me to alter my perceptions. I found mature age students no less threatening, no less obnoxious, and no less irrelevant than I did before.

I just hated one fewer.

This is a common experience amongst us “school-leavers”. Our hostility towards senior citizens is almost unanimous, yet we’re willing to make an exception for Alfred, or Edna, those lovely old codgers with big hearts. When Alf and Ed challenge our presuppositions, though, we assume that they’re the exception, never the rule. Their parent-like warmth is not enough to crack open our rigid stereotypes; our ripening brains are too caught up in isolated incidents to acknowledge their humanity.

Perhaps there’s something about youthfulness that makes us so narrow minded. I guess it’s only fair, given our attractiveness, superior physique, and downright awesomeness.
It goes without saying that the age gap engenders our enmity.

With a bit of makeup, you can change your nationality. With a few pairs of socks, you can mask your sex. Hiding your age, on the other hand, is almost impossible. Not even topical references to Rebecca Black can change that.

Such realities make mature age life a messy conundrum, something which isn’t helped by our harsh double standards.

On one hand, we think these dullards have passed their use-by-date. They’re yesterday’s news, nothing more than washed-up possessors of archaic trivia. We have little sympathy for their mid-life crisis, a plight which has returned them to the institution responsible for their initial unemployment. After all, the future is about Generation Y, so why are these Baby Boomers hanging on for an unlikely second wind?

At the same time, we presume them to be a bank of knowledge, if not a bank. In discussion groups, we expect them to take lead and do our work for us. In end-of-semester celebratory tutes, we expect them to assume the bar tab. When they offer new perspectives, we groan at their cockiness, yet when they ask questions, we scoff at their ignorance. They’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

The antagonism between them and us, however, finds it source much deeper than the dates on our respective birth certificates. With age comes experience. With experience comes confidence. And with confidence comes the love of one’s own voice.

We’ve all been there before, where that serene tutorial atmosphere is snatched away by a loudmouthed, know-it-all grandpa. So what if they’re the only one of us – the tutor included – to have worked in the industry? So what if they were alive to witness the historic events we’re discussing? How dare they interrupt our vow of silence.

It’s important to recognise, though, that our wrinkly classmates are not inherently outspoken. There is nothing genetic to suggest that people born before the mid-1980s have a biological disposition to ramble.

They hate the awkward silences in tutes as much as you and me. It’s just that they do something about it. If we really wanted those old fogies to quiet down, all we’d need to do is start talking ourselves. Surely that’s just as great an incentive as a 10% mark for class participation.

Indeed, there is no unified mature age behaviour. The demographic is complex, with some mature age students triple the age of others. You may even mistake the youngest of these seniors, no older than 23, as your contemporaries.

Imagine that. Your bestest buddy might actually be one of them.

Despite our best efforts to poop their party, mature agers are among Unimelb’s most satisfied customers. Sure, their involvement in Prosh Week is minimal, and their Facebook walls look pitiful. Yet these pensioners fill their timetables with direction and purpose, two breadth components many of us are yet to enrol in.

Society’s norms – not to mention the laws of numeracy – dictate that tertiary follows secondary. Yet mature age students don’t play by the rules. Unwilling to let age or conventions interfere with their plans, they do what they want, when they want.
We may not think of our elders as trendsetters. Indeed, they’re not; they’re trend-breakers.

If that doesn’t impress us hipsters and postmodernists, nothing will.

Thanks to the ever-popular Melbourne Model – a system tailored for late bloomers – mature age students are no longer the minority. Of this year’s student intake, a whopping 35% were classified under that dreaded umbrella term. In postgraduate studies alone, that figure was as high as 67%.

That equates to almost 5000 fledgling oldies.

That’s a lot of new enemies. Probably too many for one to handle.

Perhaps it’s time to make a few more exceptions to the rule.

For more information on the UMSU’s mature age club, search ‘Melbourne University Mature-Age Students’ on Facebook or email unimelbmatureage[at]gmail[dot]com

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