I love the recent story about the 94-year-old great-grandmother leading four generations of her family in jumping out of an airplane over central Florida — seems sky-diving is a rite of passage in her family and it was her great-grand-daughter’s 18th birthday, after all. I’m not sure I’m ready to jump out of a plane right now, much less in some 40 or 50 years, but you never know.
I have recently taken the plunge in a different way. I have become a student again. Yes! I am reliving my glorious youth and have signed up for a radio course at Mercer County Community College. First, I have to extol the forgotten benefits of being a student, aside from the obvious joy of learning something new. I have a student ID, which has brought me the unexpected bonus of qualifying for student discounts. Just this week, I saved $1.75 on my movie ticket, and another $3 at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. What is even more noteworthy is that nobody blinks or even takes a second look at my ID. Perhaps the idea that everyone is and can be a lifelong student is more widely believed than I knew. Or maybe, just maybe, I look young enough to be an actual college student. (Yeah, right!)
I would also like to extol the virtues of Mercer County Community College, a treasure trove right in our own backyard. Of course, I’ve known about it for years — but only from the perspective of a Suburban Mom who has dropped her kids off for Camp College, their fabulous summer program, and a theater buff who has attended many a musical production at the Kelsey Theater. Now I am seeing it with new eyes, and am impressed at the huge numbers and variety of interesting courses as well as the state-of-the-art technology and media labs.
The course I am taking is called Audio Production. After years in news and using the written word as the tool of my craft, I have decided that I need to expand my technical abilities so that I can be more versatile. I’ve done television work, but only on one side of the camera. I’ve always been intimidated by the technology involved with video and audio production, but I am now taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, and learning radio technology in the hopes that I can eventually produce my own radio stories.
My professor, Mitch Canter, a.k.a. “Mr. C,” is the father of a college student himself, and the only person in the class remotely close to my own age. Everyone else ranges between 18 and 22 — in other words, they could be my own kids! I’ve had plenty of opportunity to laugh in the class, mostly at myself. For example, there was the time I showed off my technological prowess by trying to plug in my headset and ended up turning off the computer instead.
This week, I had to record an “actuality,” also known as a “soundbite.” The script read, “OMGGG, I love Viking 89!” (an on-campus radio station).
Now, how would you read that? I read it as “O-M-G-G-G, I love Viking 89!” thinking it was a new thing the kids were saying these days. Would you have known to read it as “Oh my Gooooooood!”??? Of course not! At first my team members guffawed when they heard my gaffe. Then they decided they liked it so much, they used it as part of our class project.
I am not embarrassed to confess that I’ve received my first (and hopefully only) C for the semester (and for the record, one of the first Cs of my entire life. Luckily, I no longer have to report my grades to my parents). It was a C-plus on a radio lab where I had to work through some tough technical issues and do a lot of catch up, since I had missed the class where the material had been taught.
Thank goodness for my very kind, techno-savvy classmate Brian, who worked with me to bring the remedial-as-old-as-his-mother-student up to speed, or that C surely would have been an F.
In accepting my grade, I applied the same questions that I ask of my own children when they don’t do as well as they should. Did I honestly try my best? Yes. Did I learn and understand the material? Yes. (Though not in time to apply my understanding to the project. In my case, just getting the lab done was a major achievement). Could I do better next time? I certainly will try.
In the meantime, I’m meeting new people, I’m having fun, and I’m learning how to do something new. Absorbing information is not as easy or as fast as it used to be, and frankly, the labs and tests can be positively painful. But like that 94-year-old great grandmother, I believe in trying different things and pushing the limits of my otherwise fairly sane existence.
We have to keep reinventing ourselves, no matter where we are in life, and which birthday happens to be rolling around the corner. Who knows what will happen once I accomplish my immediate goal of becoming radio-literate. Maybe I will apply to be a DJ at a radio station and really horrify/impress my children, or maybe I’ll try to produce stories for NPR or another outlet.
The point is that I will continue to reach outside my comfort zone, improve my skills, aspire and dream. It’s a lesson about lifelong learning that I hope I can pass on to my own children as well, both by attitude and example.