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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Youngest/Oldest

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Yesterday, I forgot to link to Peter Tibbles story, True Loves in a Small Town, from Time Goes By. If you missed it, please do stop by. Apologies to Peter.]

By Claire Jean

Being the youngest person in class from kindergarten through high school simply happened because of when my birthday fell and the cut-off date, at that time, for the public schools.

If memory serves me correctly, being the youngest felt like good thing. Perhaps I experienced a false sense of pride in believing that I was younger and yet learning at the same rate as those who were months older. Or, maybe something deep down in my subconscious already realized that maybe younger is better.

Years later, when I was offered a full-time job at my high school during the middle of my senior year, I accepted and was flattered. Since our local Board of Education had never before hired someone so young (sixteen), special provisions had to be put into place.

It was required that I officially drop out of day school and attend evening classes. This gave me a feeling of being exceptional. Once hired, whenever word got out that I might be interested in a different position, the job was mine (pre-union, of course). I was a very good worker. However, I feel certain that being young put me ahead of anyone older with comparable skills who also might have been seeking the position.

I left the workplace in my early 30s to raise a family. When my youngest child entered first grade, I decided that working part time might be a good idea. A matter of twelve years had passed, and I was in my 40s. I began looking in the help wanted ads.

To my surprise and horror, I did not understand much of the language. What was happening out there while I was performing tasks such as trip mother, teacher’s aide, etc.? Technology happened. I did not know what the words Fax, Word Perfect, Lotus 1,2,3 meant. I had to do something and quick.

Fortunately, I managed to gain part-time employment at a marketing firm and somehow eased my way into the ever changing work force. Not long after, I left the part-time position realizing that those moving into the better jobs wore skirts much shorter than what I was wearing, and, for that matter, would want to wear. Short skirts or not, the experience afforded me the self-confidence to apply for and land a full-time job at a university.

As luck would have it, the office in which I found myself was still using electric typewriters and just beginning to introduce computers. Another remarkable bit of luck was learning that employees could take advantage of a college education with the benefit of tuition remission. Might a life-long dream come true?

All of this was exciting as well as scary. I love learning, but had only taken business courses in high school. There was just one way to find out if I could take advantage of this golden opportunity. The test would be to register for the first and most logical course, Intro to Computers. Since I graduated at age fifty-eight with a liberal arts degree, this tells you it went well.

However, none of it was easy. As a matter of fact, I probably worked triple the hours of those in my classes who were the ages of my children. I no longer experienced the feeling of exceptional as before; way before. People looked at me differently (not a good thing). Some professors were very encouraging while others deemed me invisible.I was totally consumed for the next several years with regular work and school work.

As I look back, they turned out to be some of my best years. Exposure to the world of academia was exhilarating, and the friendships made, mainly with fellow older students, were a plus. We automatically flocked to one another upon entering a classroom.

Being the youngest in school and later in the work environment for me was gratifying, but it certainly had its downside. Being the oldest in school was rewarding, but, it too, had its downside. In my present job, being the oldest in the department can be acceptable, but most definitely has its stumbling blocks.

[If you would like to contribute to The Elder Storytelling Place, the guidelines are here. We would all be pleased to read your stories.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I, too, was the youngest person in my class all the way through school. It has perks - even to this day - as we are approaching our 50th class reunion.

Claire,

I enjoyed being the oldest one in my class better than being the youngest.

When I was in Elementary and High School, I was usually the youngest, but when I was 50 years old my son and his wife gave me a present that changed everything!

One Christmas they gave me a paid up tuition to a local college.

I hesitated because of my age but they and the other kids insisted I try. I did sign up for one course and loved it. The kids in my class were about 19 or 20 and they could not have been nicer to me. I had the best time of my life in that class and signed up for another.

Then I took a Real Estate course there and actually got a job in RE and stayed in that job until I retired 15 years later.

So, not being afraid to be the oldest person in my class allowed me to meet a lot of people I would never have known and also find a great career that was both challenging and lucrative.

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