Age is really just a number

Capilano’s Mature Students discuss learning at any age

Carlo Javier // Editor-in-Chief

Elizabeth Meek has been here before.

She took classes in the buildings that stood where the Bosa Centre for Film and Animation now stands. She ate in the cafeteria that the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) office and Maple lounge now occupy. She fondly remembers an English Literature class that she took in the P Building, a part of the school that ceased to exist this past spring.

When Meek first stepped foot on the grounds of then-Capilano College, the school was still based out of the northern section of the campus, the south side was barren. The Sportsplex, Library and the Cedar and Birch buildings did not yet exist.

Armed with a wealth of experience, Meek returned to Capilano University in 2015, having enrolled in the School of Communication. Her resume includes two Associate’s Degrees from Langara College, one in Social Sciences and another in English. She also has a TV and Radio Broadcasting Diploma from Columbia Academy and a daycare license she attained from a condensed version of the Early Childcare Education programs that have become popular at schools like CapU.

Her work experience includes over 20 years of acting credits, having roles in a variety of films and television shows, as well as a multitude of commercials, such as Germany’s “Swiss Miss” advertisements. From 2002 to 2004, she hosted, wrote and produced the CFUN Morning Show on CHUM Radio. Since 2008, she’s worked as a recruiter for Syncro Marketing Research, making it the most long-term position she’s held in her multifaceted career.

Illustration by Juliana Vieira

If any student were to be labelled as “overqualified,” it would be her.

Now in her 40s, Meek enters the fourth year of her degree program, with graduation well in sight. She stands among the many Mature Students who have prospered in the CapU community – despite their dwindling numbers amidst a demographic dominated by youth.

While Meek often finds herself being the oldest student in her classes, her experiences with ageist discrimination at CapU have fortunately been few and far between. One particular incident that she does recall happened while completing a group project, where members demonstrated a clear bias against working with her, assuming that her age would equate to inadequate skills and a lack of technological savvy. “I actually spoke to the professor and left the group,” she said. “I don’t think this person intended it, but they were constantly singling me out, because of my age.”

Despite the regretful incident, Meek’s time at CapU has been more than welcoming. Generally, students have treated her no differently than they would other students and while some professors talk to her as if she was an external, objective figure in the class, she has found this dynamic to be neither negative nor a case of special treatment that would overshadow her education.

Misconceptions still do exist, however. Surprisingly, much of the negativity that Meek encounters comes from her own peers – other Mature Students. She’s critical of how some of the older students she’s met perceive their younger classmates. She recalled classes where another older student would approach her moments after dismissal, simply to complain about the mere presence of their younger cohorts.

“They love to come up and complain to you, ‘Oh they don’t know anything, they’re this, they’re that.’ I know that’s coming from their own fear of insecurity,” she said. “They feel insecure or threatened, or whatever’s going on for them, they like to pick on other students.”

Meek theorized that the misunderstanding might stem from a deeper-rooted issue – the very same thinking that creates a seemingly endless rift between people of varying age groups.

A little over a year ago, Meek had lunch with a friend in West Vancouver. Her friend, whom she described as an “upper-middle class, wealthy white woman”, took exception to their young waitress’ service. Her friend was particularly critical of the server’s insufficient smile and the seeming lack of energy. “This is the problem with all Millennials,” Meek recalled her friend proclaiming, “When I was a waitress, I took the time to smile and I had better customer service skills, look at her, she should smile more and should have more of a skip in her step.”

Appalled by her friend’s comments, Meek asked the waitress about some personal details. As it turned out, the waitress was a university student, balancing five courses, two jobs and was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Burnaby, shared with three other people.

Meek’s sympathetic attitude towards Millennial students comes not only from her experiences as a college student in the 80s and a university student in the 2010s, it’s also rooted from her own questions of self- belonging. She defined herself as “Gen-X Empty Nester” – not quite old enough to t in with the Boomer Generation, and not young enough to catch the Millennial wave.

She fully understands her privilege of being a white woman in an increasingly multicultural society, but also as a person who has enough work experience that she doesn’t have to worry about making enough money to meet car insurance fees or rental rates. Yet, she also feels out of place – and sometimes excluded – from friends and acquaintances in the same age group. “I’m less privileged than a lot of people my own age because I got my education later,” she said.

Privilege and socioeconomic factors have strong ties with education and student life. In her youth, Meek recalls students could spend a summer working at the PNE and have zero worries about tuition costs and student loans. That type of luxury simply doesn’t exist for students today – regardless of age.

“The pressure is unbelievable,” Meek said about education today. “Tuition is really expensive, housing is impossible to find – I’m a renter, I don’t own. We’re trying to balance all these expectations of school, which I’ll tell you right now, is way harder than when I went 20 years ago, and anybody who tells you different is lying, because I’ve done both.”

Times have changed and will continue to do so, for Meek, the one glimmer of hope might simply be commonality: at the end of the day, a student is a student. “The only thing that’s comforting is everybody’s on the boat with me. We’re all under the gun.”

Illustration by Juliana Vieira

CapU students may know Ida Reiman as one of the first faces they saw on campus. Since 2014, Reiman has worked in CapU’s Recruitment Department as a student ambassador. Often serving as one of the foremost people that potential students meet before they even decide to attend CapU. It’s a big responsibility, and Reiman suggests that one of the reasons she’s done well in her job is how she can relate to and communicate with the parents. After all, she is a mother of two.

It could also be because she’s a student herself, having started her studies in the School of Communication this semester, after finishing her Community Leadership and Social Change Diploma this June.

Reiman’s path to a Canadian education is not quite like most students’. Her post-secondary education did not come later in life because of circumstance – it was a necessity.

When she moved from Chile to Canada 17 years ago, Reiman barely spoke a word of English. Her lexicon was so underdeveloped back then that even the simplest of conversations proved to be challenging. “I couldn’t even ask where the washroom was,” she said.

For six years, Reiman studied English at Vancouver Community College. In the Spring of 2014, she completed Grade 12 English at Douglas College and found herself at CapU soon after. While at VCC, Reiman found work and solace with helping other students succeed – the line of work that ultimately led her to CapU.

Of the many post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland, only CapU’s Community Leadership and Social Change was able to provide Reiman with the type of career she wanted to be in. “It was one of the unique reasons why I chose Capilano,” she said. “That diploma is made for mature students who already have experience and I totally recommend that program.”

Seventeen years after she first landed in Canada, the 39-year-old mature student is now a con dent speaker, even priding herself on her social skills.

Reiman admitted that her start at CapU wasn’t the smoothest of transitions. She recalled being confused and lost amid the fast-paced nature of the school and bemoaned the lack of resources available to Mature Students at the time. Though Reiman makes it clear that CapU today has made small steps in the right direction, she does hope that the lack of mature student representation in internal matters can one day be addressed.

She cited the lack of a Mature Students liaison at the CSU and the lack of a designated space where older students could gather and convene as among the current shortcomings of the school. “Unfortunately, I have to say that the Students’ Union is not the place where mature students really can get support,” she said. Although she might sound critical of the current state of affairs on campus, Reiman fully understands that the focus of the school will be on the majority of the student demographic.

While it might not seem apparent now, Reiman suspects that CapU could get an influx in its mature student population after the recent NDP announcement to repeal tuition for English Language Learning (ELL). “It’s going to be another great opportunity for mature students to start from somewhere and continue into the academic world,” she said.

Reiman sees curiosity from her younger classmates – they sometimes ask her why she’s in school now or why she didn’t study earlier. Although her answers remain the same, Reiman believes that her younger classmates ultimately understand the realities that have surrounded her life, and forced her to have a late start in her education. “I’m pretty sure they understand that because we are immigrants, we had to start a new life here, even learn a new language,” she said.

And despite some nagging questions, much like Meek, Reiman ultimately finds the interactions with members of the school community to be among the best aspects of her experience. “I don’t see it [being older] in a negative way, in fact, I would say the opposite, I actually get pretty well connected with young students.”

For Meek, much of the same rings true. “The best part is people,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from other students and it’s been so nice getting out of my bubble.”

Meek and Reiman are just two of CapU’s often-overlooked mature student community. David Goelst, a notable graduate of the General Studies Diploma this past summer, is going on 74 years old, and as Your Daily Cap reported, is fully committed to finishing a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies.

Though Meek only remembers him by his first name, Harold another mature student, is a gentleman often seen in political science courses. One piece of advice he gave her remains to be one of the more profound lessons she’s learned in school. “You should never stop learning. Every few years take another course, take something you find interesting, learn something new, try a new language.”

Before Meek returned to CapU in 2015, she had to overcome self-doubt about being a mature student in a classroom of young people. She restarted her pursuit of education at Langara College in the summer of 2011 – a little over 20 years after she left school indefinitely to care for her son. On her first day back, before the excitement and nostalgia of academia could consume her, she went toe-to-toe with every new student’s worst nightmare. She could not find where her class was.

The campus looked vastly different from when she last studied there, and Meek did not expect that locating her summer English class would come damn near to ruining not just her day, but her return to school altogether.

Seemingly hopeless, Meek broke down. “I thought, ‘I’m too old, I shouldn’t be doing this’,” she recalled. “You just feel like a total failure.” Frustrated, she called her son for help with directions. At the time, he was also a student at Langara. “He calmed me down and convinced me to go,” she said. “It’s amazing, your own child is convincing you to go back to school.”

She found the class at the very top of the A Building. It was, unsurprisingly, full of young people. To this day, she swears that not a single student in that English class could have been anywhere near 30-years- old. Hesitation struck her again when she walked in. She knew right away that some students – if not all – would mistake her as the instructor. But she kept going. When the class did start, and when the instructor did start teaching, Meek felt a rush that she had long forgotten. A tingling sensation in a part of her brain that she described to have been dormant for so long. “It was just like a light got turned back on and I felt more alive.”

Meek and Reiman continued to pursue higher education even after the skills they initially meant to upgrade had been addressed. Both have stories that are as unique as any students’ can be, but when class starts, it does not matter how old you are. The only thing that will matter is whether you did the readings or not.

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