Nineteen students filled up professor Joseph Dimuro’s English 164C class, titled “The Novel 1850-1900.” I am one of these 19 students, but even on the first day of the quarter, something about the class’s student demographics stood out to me.
Looking around me, I saw that four of the 19 students are adult auditors. By “adult” I don’t mean us college kids who turned 18 and are trying out our still burgeoning titles. I mean adults who have boasted this status for decades and who earned their position through years of hard work and numerous trials and errors in order to be able to offer precious pearls of wisdom from life.
Two of the auditors in my class are from UCLA Longevity Center’s Senior Scholars Program, and the other two simply walked in and asked our professor if they could sit in on the class, to which Dimuro gave his permission.
According to Christina Domer, senior analyst at the UCLA Longevity Center, the Senior Scholars Program boasts about 150 auditors – and this is just the number for those enrolled this fall. The program started in 1995 with the goal of helping seniors over 50 remain intellectually active by encouraging them to take undergraduate classes alongside UCLA students. Courses offered range from English to biology, and participants do not have to turn in papers or take any exams.
Leslie Mitchner, 60, has spent 10 years as a Senior Scholar, and she has taken nearly 40 courses through the Senior Scholars Program. Mitchner spoke of the purity she sees in education, emphasizing her goal has always been to keep broadening her mind.
“I’m just one of those people who loves learning for the sake of learning,” she said.
But the number of enrollees of this program does not even cover the many independent auditors who determinedly continue to pursue further education. I spoke with one of these ardent souls, and couldn’t believe how enthusiastic she was to add to her already well-established foundation of knowledge.
Christina Woo, 69, who graduated from UCLA in 1969 with a major in philosophy, is currently auditing her seventh class. Some of the courses she’s taken include Professor Lothar von Falkenhausen’s class on the history of Chinese art and Professor Kenneth Reinhard’s graduate seminar on comparative literature.
Woo loves to read. She said she’s always read a lot, and her favorite author is Henry James. She’s been scanning UCLA’s catalog for years to find the type of class she was looking for. Finally a few years ago, her luck materialized and she discovered Dimuro would be offering what she was searching for.
During discussions, Woo is one of my favorite contributors. She is fierce and unafraid to share her opinions on the novels we read. Normally, auditors are supposed to remain fairly quiet so as to not take away speaking opportunities from undergraduate students. But our class size is small and sometimes my peers and I are too stumped over what George Eliot is trying to say through her numerous characters that Woo will stimulate our brains by pitching in her ideas. These ideas are always welcomed by Dimuro, and by myself.
There have been many occasions when something Woo reflected on sparked a new thought in my mind that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to conjure. In addition, her outlook on a character like Lucy Snowe from Charlotte Brontë’s “Villette” completely differs from my barely two decades’ worth of opinion. Dimuro embraces senior auditors like Woo into his classroom because he believes that there is something new to be gained from the combined presence of senior auditors and undergraduates.
“I think it’s important for younger students to be learning with and learning from older students and vice versa. It’s an intergenerational experiment that is in itself educational.”
I completely agree. College is supposed to be about expanding our minds and gaining deeper, more comprehensive worldviews. What better way to do this than to learn alongside people who have a lifetime’s wealth of information at their disposal? Placing students from generations apart in the same classroom enriches the points of views offered and pushes everyone in the room – the professor included – to consider and reflect on the opinion of someone who comes from a different background and time than oneself.
The best part is, the senior auditors appreciate us undergraduates just as much, if not more. Mitchner remarked on the optimism she acquires from listening to our millennial perspectives.
“I hear how intelligent and smart you are,” she said. “When I hear people my age saying the world is in a terrible state, but there’s so many young people coming up with solutions and with the energy to try and make things better, it gives me hope.”
I am so grateful to be sharing my classroom with such intelligent and open-minded individuals. Listening to Woo and Mitchner talk, I made myself promise to be like them when I grow up. Having the passion to learn means always looking to grow, and it indicates a freer thinking and unrestrained mindset: Life, as beautifully complex as it is, will always have infinitely more to offer us if we just keep our minds open.