“No tests. No grades. Just the joy of learning and sharing.” My recently-graduated and still slightly burnt-out self does a double-take as I scan Eckerd College’s website; it piques my curiosity. I love being in school so much I decided I couldn’t leave academics even after I graduated, which is why I chose a career in education.
I have a huge passion for learning and, though it felt like failure at the time, I am grateful I fooled around in those first years post-high school graduation because I know my 28-year-old self had a far greater appreciation and respect for learning than my 18-year-old self ever did. College is hard, learning is hard, but when I finally graduated from USF last December it was bittersweet: I was excited to join the workforce and stop accruing student loan debt. But I was also heartbroken to leave behind my academic experience. I had some of the best professors ever at HCC and USF, and I learned and grew so much in those four years.
Still, I hesitate about applying to grad school every month when I make my already too-costly student loan payments. As any recent graduate will tell you, the worst part of college is tuition. (And then there’s the stress induced by exams, grades and more.)
The best part about college, though, is pretty much everything else.
With a slogan like “Where curiosity never retires” it’s clear OLLI caters toward the silver-haired crowd. But the nonprofit education program is actually open to all adult learners. As their website states, “Each year OLLI provides more than 400 intellectually stimulating non-credit classes, interest groups, local and international trips and special events for its members at several locations in Pinellas County.” Various locations span across Pinellas, from the college’s main campus on the gulf coast to satellite campuses in Palm Harbor and St. Pete.
Years ago I may have shied away from the idea of being surrounded by senior citizens in a classroom: Am I totally uncool?
But now, having spent over four years in dozens of classrooms, I know better. The classes I shared with older students — some at USF who took part in the auditing program — were always the best ones. I heard firsthand accounts from participants in riots and bus boycotts. I listened to war veterans speak truth to what textbooks only glossed over and witnessed heated but respectful discussions between opposing sides from decades-old debates.
Classes with senior citizens are where it’s at. Seriously.
OLLI at Eckerd’s slogan “from art to zydeco!” is no exaggeration: The institute offers an extensive array of classes and field trips each year, including ventures to such local favorite spots as Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and a Dunedin historic home tour. For those daring to venture overseas, study abroad program options offer trips to Cuba, Budapest and Prague.
As I turn through the pages of OLLI’s nearly 70-page course catalog I am shocked at the extent of learning opportunities OLLI offers. Nearly every day of the week there are multiple classes scheduled. A wide variety of subjects ranges from Florida Studies to Film and Television, Culture and Travel to Philosophy, Technology and Health, Wellness and Fitness — and that is only just the beginning.
Want to learn how to draw with pastels? Cook a French meal? Practice Tai Chi or meditative yoga? There’s a class for that. Need a lesson in how to use Google or Windows 10? Perhaps you’d like to learn about “seeking truth in a post-factual world” or hear about Elvis Presley’s adventures in Florida. Yup — there’s a class for that, too.
Some of the great minds of Tampa Bay host these lifelong learning classes: Sifting through the courses I recognize names of various local historians, writers and artists. And the prices are far from premium: A yearlong membership is $59 and gives a large price cut on each class as well as discounts to local museums and concert events. Even for non-members, though, many classes charge just $25-$50.
No student loans to worry about there.
Originally founded in 1997 as “Senior College at Eckerd,” the program offered “affordable, engaging non-credit courses and travel programs” in the Bay area, their website states. Less than 10 years later the Senior College at Eckerd was recognized by the Bernard Osher Foundation, an institution that supports learning programs at more than 100 colleges nationwide. The Foundation gave a sizeable grant to Eckerd and has been supporting OLLI ever since.
“No tests. No grades. Just the joy of learning and sharing.”
Sounds pretty appealing, right?
For our most recent election day I dressed up in red, white and blue and passionately spoke to a bunch of eight year-olds about the importance of voting. I told them about how their vote is their voice, and how their voice matters.
I am passionate about voting. I am passionate about speaking up — in big ways as well as small — for what you believe in.
I am also passionate about education. Knowledge is power, and it is never too late to grow our knowledge. OLLI at Eckerd knows this. They also know many of the reasons people of all ages shy away from enrolling in college courses: Not enough money. Not enough time. Not enough energy to stress over grades and attendance and final exams.
OLLI at Eckerd takes away the stress and leaves you with no excuse. If we’re not learning, we’re not growing — and if we’re not growing, we’re slowly dying. So dust off that backpack and sharpen those pencils: It’s time to hit the books.
Only this time, there’s no test at the end of the lesson.
OLLI at Eckerd open houses
Nov. 29, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S., St. Petersburg
Nov. 30, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.: The Centre, 1500 16th St., Palm Harbor.
727-864-7600 | eckerd.edu/olli