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Archive for Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Revelation: College kids now seem a lot … younger

August 22, 2006

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Back before Matthew McConaughey earned my eternal ire by narrowly beating me out for People's "Sexiest Man Alive" - and before he made a string of dumb, forgettable movies - he did one good thing in his acting career: He played Wooderson.

The movie was "Dazed and Confused," and Wooderson was a familiar character: the guy who kept hanging around the high school crowd for a few years after high school was over, never moving on to the next stage of life.

At one point, McConaughey-as-Wooderson eyes a new crop of freshmen and lasciviously drawls: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

It's a line - minus, I should add, the dirty-old-man connotations - that I remember every fall as thousands of 18- to 22-year-olds stream into town and onto campus. In Lawrence, it seems, I keep getting older ... and everybody else stays the same age.

How did this happen? When I arrived here six years ago, I was just a couple of years older than most undergrad seniors. We were practically generational colleagues, or so I thought. I was hip; I was down with the kids. (Except for the part where I called them my "generational colleagues.")

Last week, though, a thought occurred: This year's KU freshmen were 3 years old when I started college, way back in 1991.

Put it another way: Census numbers released show that the median age in Lawrence - not counting the kids in the dorms - is about 28. In the rest of Kansas, that number is 36. So somebody like me, in his early- to mid-30s, would be young anywhere else; here, I'm among the older half of Lawrence residents.

And this will not change. Next year, I will be a year older. KU will still draw thousands of 18- to 22-year-olds to town. It's like "Logan's Run" come to life.

Somebody get me a rocking chair and false teeth, quick.

Nobody except the most serene among us likes getting older. It is more fun, no doubt, to be skinny, to have energy, to have everything ahead of you. All this is complicated - as my Journal-World colleague Cathy Hamilton noted recently - by the fact that most of us don't feel much different than we did at 18.

Still, I'm trying to resist the temptation to be obsessed with my lost youth. There's nothing to be gained (and a lot to be lost) by trying to live like a college student again. It's smarter and more enriching, I hope, to figure out how to live the most vibrant and fulfilling life with the body and (hopefully) wisdom that come with a few years of experience.

Or I could become a curmudgeon. That would be fun, too. Maybe this getting older isn't so bad, after all.

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