A couple of weeks into the Spring semester, I'm pleased to note that students in all my classes have been inspiring me with the quality of their participation. Anyone who tries to tell you that "kids these days" are not serious, reflective, engaged, committed, or concerned, should visit us.
And then there are the "non-traditional" students, typically older and worldly-wise, many back from military service, looking to re-tool and re-charge. They also inspire. Before class yesterday I learned that one of them had made a remarkable life-transformation, with the aid of gastric bypass surgery. He'd made the bold decision not to settle for corporeal imprisonment (he showed me a "before" picture), and today he's the picture of health and happiness.
After the same class I met the spouse of another, my own age, who wants to commence the formal study of philosophy. I should have mentioned to him Plato's view that no one is truly qualified to undertake that occupation before the age of fifty. It's definitely not too late for him to make a new plan.
I understand the spirit of Plato's observation, and it should definitely buoy the older undergrad; but I disagree with it. I've been inspired by my students to realize again that it's never too early to seek wisdom, nor too late to change direction, improve your life, and make a contribution.
That's the report the administrators in Cope Hall won't be asking me for, along with the Unofficial Withdrawal Rosters and other student status ("success") updates. But it's the kind of report that really ought to be noted and filed by all of us in higher ed. Our purpose isn't merely to get them in and out and quickly employed in four years or less, it's to help them live "the examined life."
From my vantage, it's evident that many of them are doing just that. It's an inspiration.