For most college students, the idea of waking up for class at eight in the morning is a dreadful proposition. A lifestyle of long nights and poor diets often make it difficult to roll out of bed before noon. This is not the case for Warren Davis, who not only looks forward to waking up for his 8 a.m. class, but relishes the idea of going. Warren is not like most college students though; he eats right, takes notes, oh, and he’s 70 years old.
Warren Davis was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1946, one year after the end of World War II. When he was three years old, he moved to a small town in Maine where he spent much of his youth. He remembers his childhood fondly, as he explored the wooded areas around his sleepy little New England town and developed a love for nature and the outdoors which continued throughout his entire life.
When Warren was 14, he moved, once again, to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he would stay until wanderlust carried him out west during the summer of the love in the 1960’s. This is where he developed much of his love for learning and companionship, leading him to the Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning.
Stepping out of his car into the warm summer rain, Warren looked noticeably different compared to other traditional students at Keene State College. He wore a brown suit with matching slacks, and comfortably walked with his books in one hand and his old black umbrella in the other. Warren walked with the comfortable ease of a man who has experienced a long and fulfilling life. For him, seven in the morning was considered sleeping in, and he came to KSC alert and ready for class.
Affectionately calling it Geezer School, Warren is a member of the Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) program at Keene State College. The program has over 500 students who sign up for classes every year, some of whom have been taking courses for over 20 years. “We get about 20 new students into our program each year,” said Heather Jasmine, the CALL coordinator. “We have to register by mail now, [but] before, we would have a line down the block.”
The CALL program started in the mid 1990s, modeled after a similar program the University of New Hampshire developed. The goal was to give back to the community, as well as provide learning services to retirees looking for ways to stay engaged. Research from the Stanford Center of Longevity supports that programs like CALL promote social engagement and physical and mental health, which are both points they boast about on their pamphlets.
The classes in the CALL program differ wildly from that of which an undergraduate student takes. These classes offer more of a focus on interests, hobbies and self-understanding. These classes range from pottery and yoga to the history of Charlie Chaplin. These classes do not have grades or homework, but instead wish to foster discussion and meaningful thought. For Warren, he picks what interests him.
Warren’s Friday classes start at 8 a.m. and go until roughly 3:30 in the afternoon. While his classmates are raising their hands or asking questions, Warren Davis sits hunched over his notebook taking notes–lots of them. He is focused and engaged, intense in his ferocious hunger for learning. While other people in the class talk and laugh, he sits back with a classic New England stoic demeanor, taking in and enjoying his surroundings.
Warren’s schedule starts off bright and early with yoga at eight in the morning. This class teaches students to be mindful of one’s body and to understand their aches and pains. They wear sweatpants and t-shirts to class. They bring notebooks and take notes. They are eager, engaged and ready to learn. Many are also gray-haired or have none. The teacher, with her soft, dulcet tones, soothes anxiety by accommodating the specific needs of her students by allowing them to use chairs as supports, or adapting some of the more complex poses like downward dog to a modified version.
While many in this class struggle with the poses, Warren, even though he is in a brown suit and slacks, is able to bend, stretch and twist with a youthful exuberance. He is in stark contrast to many of the others who struggle with even the most basic of poses. Warren has an uncanny ability to disprove many preconceived notions about the abilities of someone in their 70s. The low lights and calming Indian-style music that gently filled the room created an atmosphere of peace and harmony, but this class is not without complaints.
“I think I preferred our other yoga professor,” said Warren. “She was an older women and knew, I think, what it felt like for us geezers. This young one tries, but I don’t know.”
A common theme throughout the CALL program is the selection of professors. “A lot of the people who teach in the program are, themselves, retired professor[s] or adjuncts,” said Heather. “This shows, as many of the professors are highly experienced and able to relate to the experiences of their students.”
Warren, now in his 70s, has amassed a number of memorable life experiences as he happily recalls his time in the 1960s.
“It’s hard to imagine now, but I was kicked out of school for having long hair,” said Warren. “The Dean invited me into his office and told me I had no place at this college, but I did get to video tape the whole thing.”
After his college career came to an abrupt end, Warren decided to explore other avenues that interested him. “During the summer of love, my friends and I would go to the Willy Wagon, essentially a bus that would help you find temp[orary] work. It’s hard to imagine now, but we used to only work eight days in the summer and have enough money to get by.” Warren was a self-described hippie, who to this day fights for ecological and sociological issues, like fracking and the instalments of natural gas pipelines, albeit with shorter hair.
For someone in Warren’s age demographic, keeping busy and focused can help deal with depression. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that 18 percent of all suicide attempts are by older adults, even though they are only 12 percent of the population. Depression in senior citizens is common because of factors like their bodies no longer working correctly, loss of friends and feeling of no value with a sprinkling of social isolation, according to AAMFT Some of these issues can be helped by programs such as CALL, which give goals and direction to older students.
For Warren, these issues do not seem to be a concern. He is joyous about the adventures and experiences he is gaining in his retirement. “I just went to Europe for the first time in my life to go skiing. It was unbelievable. I love skiing here, but it’s so different over there,” said Warren. To this day, when the weather is nice, Warren said he rides his motorcycle, enjoying the freedom that it provides.
For the rest of his day in the CALL program, Warren takes classes that speak to his interests. These include a class about the Supreme Court, the effect of circadian rhythms and an analysis of the 2016 presidential election. “Sometimes I will take a class multiple times if I think we will talk about different things,” said Warren. “I had no idea what a circadian rhythm was, but now I know they affect how I sleep.”
“With this program, we have 500 members of the community praising our school,” Jasmine said. She emphasized that she thinks this program is a great way to build a strong relationship between the town and the college.
“At my age, you never really know, do you?” said Warren. “For me it’s not about wealth, it’s about experiences. Hell, at my age, I don’t know how many new experiences I have left in me, but I will keep doing them until I can’t.”
Paul Lucas can be contacted at email@example.com