Older Students’ Great Sacrifices

By Kevin Kuzma | February 29, 2012

He was at least 25 years older than the other intern candidates. And he wasn’t wearing a tie.

Those were the first details I noticed about Greg before he’d even sat down for our interview. I wasn’t wearing a tie either, so there was no judgment being made (I take pleasure in flaunting our company’s casual dress code). We were both visiting an extension campus of Baker University in Overland Park, Kan., and my role was to interview candidates for potential summer internships. His role was to respond to my questions.

The morning was the usual rush of interviews. I was sequestered to a classroom and every 15 minutes, from 9 a.m. until noon, we met with soon-to-be graduates with varying degrees and interests. The quality was about normal, too: some grads were prepared. All of them were nervous. A few were there because someone told them to be. Greg was one of my last appointments of the early session.

I shook Greg’s hand. He handed me his resumè and sat down. He’s graduating from DeVry University in the summer.

“So, what drew you to Network Systems Administration?” I asked.

“I’ve always liked to work on computers,” he said. “I fix them for my friends and for my family. I also like to work on computer networks – you know, and routing systems.”

His decision to go without a tie was more than just a casual look – he looked like the role he was auditioning for. I could see him making his way from office to office, giving the office technology a check-up.

“Your background is in drywall,” I said. “Why the switch to Network Systems Administration?”

“Well, I’m older,” he laughed, because it was obvious. His hair was graying all over and his face was rough and red, weathered from a career spent mostly outdoors. “When you get older, your body doesn’t allow you to do all the things you used to do. I’ve worked in dry wall for 30 years now … ”

“Now it’s time to try something different?” I asked.

“Right. Exactly.”

The typical intern at our company is somewhere in the 21 or 22 range. They come to work for us during the summer for the experience, not the salary – and they don’t walk away disappointed. While there aren’t enough positions available for them all, they often leave with real experience and, in some cases, examples of projects they contributed to that are impressive on resumes and in future job interviews.

Last fall, I wrote about the aggression that recent graduates showed at a booth we set up at a job fair on a university campus. On that visit, the graduates were hoping to find real jobs, not internships. They were severely disappointed when there wasn’t an immediate opportunity open.

The internship crowd was much more subdued. The spots are still coveted, though. At our company – where employees indulge in interesting work, ping pong and all the soda you can drink – they are an outright commodity.

Here was Greg, a man who’d experienced more in the business world than I had, willing to take a step back – in some ways, to completely start over, wherever he found the best opportunity. Our conversation went on and I could tell he was strong analytically, as I expected. He’d learned quite a bit about the business world in leading his own business. But his passion wasn’t in construction.

Whenever someone decides to give up a career to follow their passion, there is always a measure of bravery involved. When that person is in their late 40s or early 50s, and they are knowingly competing with younger generations, it’s borderline heroism.

I cut the interview short. I was impressed with what I heard, so I invited him to an open house to learn more about the company and hopefully earn a spot in the summer internship program. Assuming he earns the role, I know there will be some confusion in our office about him being an intern, not a new hire. But I think he would be able to handle it.

Greg is part of a new generation of his own – non-traditional learners who are finally following through on the careers they’ve always wanted after the circumstances finally managed to work themselves out over the years. They make quiet sacrifices to pursue an education. They are often fighting more than just taking a new career direction. Those other challenges can be age, discrimination, misperceptions. Sometimes, the sacrifice is just showing up.

Older Students

Thank you for sharing this story! I too can relate with the older student, as I too have returned to school to pursue my passion! In fact, I work for a career college which gave me an opportunity to return to school! They hired me without a degree in my late forties and its been a wonderful experience! I encourage others to follow their dreams and embrace the future.

Older Students

A poignant example of reality for many of us who returned to school later in life to start a new career. It is humbling and exciting all at the same time.