Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Experiencing College in Later Life: “When I’m 64: Transforming Your Future”

Written by Carol Laciny, member, STL Village & participant, WashU “When I’m 64” course

When I started college, it was the late sixties, “The Age of Aquarius”. My cohort planned on a new era of universal peace, understanding and love. Some professors in my small liberal arts school promoted “free university” classes where students designed their own syllabuses. The problem, it turned out, was that we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Now the tables have turned. There is the internet. WashU teachers for the “When I’m 64” class, who are passionate about their field of study and their students, have vetted and organized vast amounts of information. With raised awareness about ageism, students will be better prepared to face future challenges and can perhaps, be agents for positive change as world demographic patterns trend toward a greater percentage of older people.

Carol, far right, works with a group of first year students on an in-class assignment in When I’m 64: Transforming your Future

I’m guessing that the students in this class are mostly as inexperienced as my freshman self. I am confident that they will be more prepared than I was to have an impact.

From course participation, my impression was that students’ engagement was greatest when they found practical applications for their current situation. For example, “Your Money” and “Your Job” addressed questions about how to live on their own for the first time and to pay for their education without incurring unmanageable debt. For students who are exploring new experiences and friends, the class on “Your Sexuality” no doubt had personal significance. Similarly for me, one of the most engaging classes was “Your Transportation” because I will ultimately need to find alternatives to my automobile. Better public transportation, more and better ride-sharing services, better community accessibility… if only…

The unacknowledged assumption in virtually all of the course topics, Body, Health, Mind, Family and Friends, Sexuality, Home, Job, Money, Community, Transportation, Society, even Death and Future, is stability. If only the presumption of stability were credible here, now and in the future. Regarding infrastructure, society and the economy, principles of Universal Design could readily create diverse, beautiful, safe communities for all ages. Regarding economies and governments, principles of equality, sustainability, and justice could support universal health care, intergenerational families, equitable jobs, and diverse neighborhoods. And then there is the climate. How aging populations could act to improve climatic stability is a fraught topic, but one that should not be overlooked.

The “When I’m 64” course provides an introduction to some of the challenges members of this freshman class are bound to encounter. I hope they are more practical, as a cohort, than mine was. If only my college class had eschewed our Aquarian complacency and gotten to work preparing for the future. Now the urgency and resources to take action have grown dramatically. I hope the students in my current class will seize the moment and make a difference.

If there were more time, additional classes on “Your Government” for civic engagement and “Your Quality of Life” for considering consumerism in the context of sustaining built and natural environments, would be my suggestion.