Donna DiGiacomo began her first semester at Temple University in 2012 at the age of 43, only to take a leave of absence after one semester due to personal and financial reasons. She returned during the Fall 2019 semester to finish her degree
“The economy was pretty much in shambles, still is, but you know I tried my best to get a job,” said DiGiacomo, a 45-year-old senior journalism major. “And didn’t really work out so it just got to the point pre-pandemic, where I was just like you know what, why don’t I just go back to school, finish my degree.”
Like DiGiacomo, many nontraditional Temple students chose to return to school after taking a break in their studies because their passion for education outweighs challenges like connecting with peers.
Before coming to Temple, DiGiacomo graduated from the Community College of Philadelphia with an associate’s degree in humanities in 2010 and a creative writing certificate in 2011. Part of the reason she originally left Temple in 2012 was that she didn’t want to dig herself into debt by taking out more loans for school, and she didn’t like being in class with kids half her age.
“I just thought about it,” she added. “I’m like ‘Am I a little bit too old for this?’”
Now that she is back at Temple, DiGiacomo doesn’t have much of a connection to her peers outside of class because she feels most clubs and student organizations are aimed at younger students, and the age difference between her and others will cause friendships to fail, she said.
“Being an older student you feel like a lone wolf in, you know, a sea of young faces,” DiGiacomo added.
Although she is unsure of how her classmates view her, DiGiacomo feels like she doesn’t belong and wishes younger students cared more about what she has to say because they don’t usually engage with her, she said.
“I’m not saying that they would take it as gospel so to speak, but it would, you know, be nice you know just to sit there say ‘Hey you know she said, and maybe she has something interesting or you know something useful to offer,’” DiGiacomo said.
Sinh Taylor, a 35-year-old junior studying English education and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, has attended college on and off since 2004, starting as a part-time student at CCP right after high school, they said.
After attending CCP for a year, they transferred to the Katherine Gibbs trade school to study graphic design, had a baby and then worked full time while taking classes at CCP in 2016. They enrolled at Temple in 2018, they said.
One of the reasons Taylor decided to go back to school is that their daughter is now in high school and doesn’t need much supervision, giving them time to do school work, they added.
“She thinks it’s cool that her mom’s in college,” Taylor said. “Like, she tells all her friends her mom’s in college and like she’s come to campus with me a couple of times after school.”
Being older than other students also means Taylor can help their classmates in ways younger students might not be able to, they said. When Temple first shut down at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, there was a student from France who couldn’t travel home who ended up staying with Taylor for two weeks.
Malcolm Thomas, a 32-year-old junior geography and urban studies major, started his degree in 2009 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he stayed for a single semester before pausing his studies. At the time, he worked in food service and warehouses, and didn’t care much about his future because it didn’t seem like a big deal, he said.
“Ten years of life has kind of made me realize that maybe, you know, you have to do something else with my life,” Thomas added.
In 2020, he enrolled at Temple because he liked its geography and urban studies program and was closer to his job at Continental Battery, a battery distributor, than other local schools, like the University of Pennsylvania or Drexel University, he wrote in an email to the Temple News.
Thomas decided to study geography and urban studies because he has always had a “strong sense of place” and believes the places where people live influence who they are, he wrote.
Despite having multiple classes with people who share his interests, Thomas hasn’t made a serious effort to form any friendships at Temple because there is no point, he said.
He doesn’t have much in common with younger students due to having more life experience and already having a friend group outside of college.
“It would be different if I was, you know, on campus, or especially living on-campus stuff like that or away from home for the first time,” Thomas said.