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Commentary: The Great Divide

For many students, grad school is more than just a place to learn and build a professional network. It’s also where you make lifelong friends. But how do you forge friendships across a generation gap that’s three decades wide?  Here’s Wendy Rhodes.

I remember my first grad school party. The guy who invited me said he totally related to feeling kind of lost as an older student, because he, himself, was 28.  

He clearly didn’t know how old I was, and I didn’t say anything. But in my mind, I was thinking, my god, I have sweaters older than you.

The party didn’t start until 9:30, so I forced myself to stay awake, long after I would have normally fallen asleep to Golden Girls reruns. But I was determined to prove to myself that at 50-something, I could still party with the best of ‘em. And I really did want to meet new people.

I arrived fashionably late. Which by my standards, was 9:45. I climbed about a thousand rickety stairs to a dark living room. There was pounding house music and red and blue lights zipping around. And me. Not fashionably late, but dorkily early.

And it got worse. Apparently, people don’t bring presents anymore. Not only had I brought one, but to make it even more full-on geek, it was in a gift bag. With sparkly paper.

Listen, it’s hard being an older student. There’s a massive cultural divide, like the first day of class when I wrote a story referencing Archie Bunker and no one but the teacher knew who I was talking about. And it goes both ways, because I’m lost when other students talk about Game of Stranger Thrones Things.

I’d imagined making all kinds of fascinating new friends at grad school. We’d talk all night and I’d share all this great wisdom with them. But they’re not really interested in how things were. They’re interested in how things are going to be. And I know now that if want to make new friends, I have to learn how to see the world from their perspective.

So, while friends my age are posting pictures of their grandkids on Facebook, I’m out late, sitting on a low couch in a sketchy neighborhood, ready to pounce on anyone new that might walk in.

But no one did. The few people there were standing around, glued to their iPhones, smoking e-cigarettes. I finally took off around 11:30, just as the cool people were showing up.

I went home, kicked off my sensible shoes, and started thinking about my own 20s. What ever happened to Marlboro’s? Why don’t people bring gifts anymore? And my god, when did music get so awful?

I’m not really sure when everything changed, because I’ve realized that the older I get, the less I know. Which is weird, because at 25, I knew everything. Everything except the fact that before I could blink, I would become the older generation.

Looking back though, I’m glad I went to that party. Even though the music sucked. The same way my parents thought my music sucked, and the same way the people at that party are going think their kid’s music sucks. Because that’s just how it is.

And while I didn’t meet any new young people, I’m still hoping to. So, if you ever wanna teach me how iThings work or hear what it’s like to party backstage with Pink Floyd, give me a call. Maybe we can go out for a drink or something. Sometime around, say, 6:00?

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