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On late bloomers, Founding Fathers, and expecting more out of our senior years
An Ohio man has been awarded a special degree, an Associate of Technical Studies, by the University of Akron. What makes it a remarkable event is that new graduate Robert Greathouse is 93 years old, and that he attended the university sporadically over the course of 35 years.
■ It's tailor-made to be a human-interest story, of course. Local television newscasts eat this kind of tale right up. But they should also cause us to pause and reflect on the whole reason we have an educational system in the first place.
■ Greathouse's attendance was sporadic because he used the University of Akron mainly as a career resource, picking up courses in subjects like computer programming because he needed them for his job. His attendance tapered off about the time he reached retirement age. And there is nothing wrong whatsoever with having used education as a tool to increase earnings potential.
■ But we should never be quick to underestimate how much potential remains in the human mind, even after a working career has come and gone. Winston Churchill was already 65 when he became prime minister of the United Kingdom at their time of greatest distress. Benjamin Franklin was 70 when he joined the committee to write the Declaration of Independence, and older still when he was elected President of Pennsylvania. Galileo Galilei was 76 or 77 when he invented a pendulum clock.
■ It may not be obvious why there would be a public interest in pouring finite resources into the education of people who no longer need credentials for the resume. Maybe, though, we are too quick to categorically under-estimate the value of the ideas locked inside minds capped by gray hair.
■ If we don't balk at the idea of workers undergoing frequent career changes when they are of conventional working age (even if nobody really knows what exactly constitutes a "career change"), then perhaps we ought to be quicker to embrace the idea of graying grads and emeritus learners.
■ The "wisdom of elders" has been a trope for nearly as long as elders have walked among us. But maybe we ought to heed Seneca's advice that "[O]ne should watch over one's old age with still greater care if one knows that such action is pleasing, useful, or desirable in the eyes of a person whom one holds dear." Furthering an education isn't the only way to be useful, of course -- but maybe it would turn out well for all of us if there were less novelty in senior citizens going back to re-live senior year.