Opinion: I’m not a ‘nontraditional’ student, I am authentic

By Jacqueline Luttrell, Photojournalist

The National Center for Education Statistics defines nontraditional students as meeting one of seven characteristics: delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attends college part time, works full time, is financially independent for financial aid purposes, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent or does not have a high school diploma.

In 2018, I started at Columbia as a “nontraditional” student.

Columbia is an environment where traditional molds are not supposed to exist. Once I got here, aside from the occasional mishap—such as being mistaken for a parent or faculty—I have experienced that I am just like other students. Though I will admit I do enjoy getting double discounts as a senior and a student, my age has been both a blessing and an annoyance at times.

Coming from Kalamazoo Valley Community College—where my classmates were a few years older than my grandchildren—my peers and I meshed well as I pursued my associate degrees in multi-media/video and graphic design.

On Orientation Day at Columbia, I clearly had a student name tag on, but I was still directed to go with the parents. When it was time to explore the gauntlet of student organizations, I was greeted as a parent, and the look of shock when I said I was a student was obvious. Undergrad; gasp. Photojournalism; faint. Break out the smelling salts.

I’ve always been a driven person. My motto is, “Go hard or go home.” I came to learn all I can and leave to set the world on fire. With that mindset, it’s been easy to stay focused. Professors have been great by holding me to the same standards as other students, with some expecting even more from me. I welcome this challenge.

Yet, its been painfully obvious there are not many like me as an undergraduate. I have yet to meet another student my age, nor are there any organizations for us, so it is as if we don’t exist. If there were others like me, it would be nice to connect with them.

Although I have continued to learn from my fellow students and understand the world we live in from their perspective, there have been times my annoyance with the lack of manners or the entitled attitudes of my younger peers has gotten to me.

I have seen students act with blatant disrespect, to the point that the mom and grandmother in me roared.

But I must applaud Columbia for the “Life Experience Credit,” a program where, under special circumstances, a student may be granted up to 16 credit hours in their major for life and work experience. This program was invaluable to me, given my previous experience as a photographer.

As a creative, I don’t fit a mold. I am a black woman, mother and grandmother in a stage of life and career where a mold does not exist.

As a senior in life and a senior student, I am not “nontraditional.” I am authentic.