On a beautiful summer evening I, aged 50 years stepped onto the campus for the first time. I was still getting over the fact that after attending, what I considered to be a disastrous college interview (on my part) I was actually offered a place at Birkbeck University to study philosophy. The desire to go and study at degree level was about to become a reality. Eek!
As I walked through the gates on the way to the main building, I was surrounded by seemingly self-confident people hanging out in beer tents, sitting or lying in groups on the grass and looking very much at home with university life. I wasn’t. I studied them with wanton curiosity as if they were some alien beings. It was as if I had daydreamed myself off course and found myself in a no go zone. I did not belong here. These beings were confident, knowledgeable, bright, popular and young. I was none of these things.
University life meant nothing to me; my youth was a distant land. My career was becoming non-existent and yet I was curious or crazy enough to keep walking and not run away. Putting one foot in front of the other I made it to the door. Yet when I got there something stopped me from going in. Curiosity raised its head again. I just had to have another look. A closer look at what could well become my fellow students or tutors. Best face the music I thought. Indeed music was playing in the distance. It was good too. The smell of food and the summer air reminded me of a festival and I was a dab hand at festivals. Despite my aging bones, I could camp down, rock and join the mosh pit as well as anyone. I saw some friendly looking faces so I smiled at them. They smiled back. Result!
This time, head high I looked around me rather than casting a shy, hunched glances. I noticed the sundial in the garden. I walked over to it. Its aged-green copper globe-lines reminded me of the one at Walmer Castle, Kent. The memory of a lovely summer holiday in Kent drifted in, when my husband took a photo of me standing looking through the bars of the globe. I felt a pang of sadness and joy. Sadness because it was the last summer my Mum was alive. Joy because I am loved so much by the photographer who gave me his full support in my mid-life choice to study. This, I decided was going to be my touchstone. The mark of energy and light that would signify the start of my journey and keep me focused. The sundial and I became the image I chose to be on my student pass and My Birkbeck Profile. Recently in a bookshop while showing my student card for a discount, one of the staff admired the image saying how happy I looked. He was right, I was happy.
Although scared, doubtful of my abilities and uncertain as to whether I was doing the right thing or not. However, I was smiling. For some crazy, mad reason that only the very young and the aging can identify with, I felt a smile in my head and a sudden lightness in my hormones. I jaunted over to the main door and went inside.
An hour later, nicely surrounded by similar eager, curious people that appeared to be of all ages and come from everywhere, I began to understand the true meaning of University. I got what Plato and Aristotle were trying to do all those years ago. It gave me joy thinking about shared knowledge and experiences and exciting to think of the discussions yet to be had. When the speaker on the stage asked us whether we would like to share how we felt about being here, my hand shot up. She nodded encouragingly at me and I heard myself say to the universe “It is the best facecream in the world, both inside and out”.
People clapped, they actually clapped. Judging by the response given, I guess a lot of people would agree that studying philosophy is a universal and intuitive thing in that it knows no age, ability or social barriers to studying it. The greatest learning has not only been from the excellent reading lists but the discussions and live conversations I had and continue to have with such a diverse demographic. I thank everyone as your knowledge and kindness like a good moisturiser has rubbed off on me and I feel a brighter and happier person from it.
So for anyone considering studying Philosophy, whatever your age or background I would encourage you to go on, dip your fingers into the creamy pot of knowledge, apply gently and absorb.
– Charlotte Daly, Philosophy Student at Birkbeck College