“The majority of people I know look at their degrees and say how, if they could have gone back later, they would have studied something different or focused on something different but now it’s too late … I would have definitely been one of those people,” Matthew Callahan ’18 said.
Callahan is a member of small community on campus known as “Non-Traditional Students,” whose constituents include transfer students, parents, those financially independent, and, like Callahan, students who are simply older.
“I’m ten years older than most of the juniors and seniors here so a large part of the socialization aspect of college doesn’t exist,” he said. Many of his younger college acquaintances are shocked when they learn that he actually 31.
Callahan jokes about this, but, as he points out, this speaks to the difficulty of socializing with your peers as a non-traditional student. Unlike most undergraduate students at Lewis & Clark, Callahan’s life outside of class is largely restricted to being off campus, handling the “adult” issues and lifestyles that many of his peers haven’t yet dealt with.
So, if this is the case, then why do non-traditional students end up in this semi-ostracising social atmosphere? For Callahan, it was a matter of heart and logistics.
“I did the acting thing, landed some good roles and did some voice work and commercials and what not, but by about age 24 I realized that it wasn’t where my heart lied,” Callahan said. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, but for what?”
Adding to this, Callahan and several of his friends were spooked by post-9/11 events, in which reinstituting the draft became a real threat to their plans for the future.
“All of my friends and I had no idea what to expect from the next few years, and so there were a lot of people who just kinda hovered in that uncertainty,” he said.
Now a Classics major with an emphasis on Ancient Language, Callahan said that waiting as long as he did to begin college was ultimately the best decision he could have made for himself. He says that it’s “easier to buck the trends,” and that he has a truly deep understanding and appreciation of why he is at school; It’s all for his education.
“The excuses of not feeling well or being tired or overwhelmed by classes or just not in the mood? None of them are good enough to make me miss a class,” Callahan said. “If I miss a class I have a damn good reason for it, this shit is expensive and the sacrifices I’ve made to be here are not outweighed by moody days.”
Having made the decision to be an undergraduate student at Lewis & Clark and knowing the transitional difficulties that non-traditional students face, Callahan values the work of the student group, Association of Non-Traditional Students, or ANTS.
“The work that Margot Black does [at ANTS] is highly overlooked in my opinion and she is extremely passionate about making sure that non-trads feel like they have a secure and safe place. I spent much of last year with them and it was really refreshing.”
And has it been worth it thus far?
“God, yes. If I had gone to school straight out of high school and pursued my education in performance arts then I would have been following something that was not really what I wanted to be doing in the long term … In my opinion I say when you’re 18 get the hell out, go travel and work awful jobs and go experience the world for what it actually is and then approach school once you’ve gotten yourself a bit more figured out,” Callahan said.