Posted May 3, 2011 by Jeff Pelletier 

Aging Up

I've heard many colleagues say that one of the things they like best about working in student affairs is that it keeps them young. For some, that may mean staying young at heart. For others, keeping up with students results in a youthful appearance, perhaps serving as a blessing and a curse at the same time.

Many of us have stories about being mistaken for students at orientation programs, move-in days, or graduations. I mention these events specifically because, more often than not, it's a parent or family member who assumes we might be their students' roommate, resident advisor, or BFF. And yes, truth be told, we've been all of those things to students along their way, sharing space on a gym floor during a retreat, working as a hall hirector (really just a "high-powered RA," right? Kidding!), or being one of the first people they visit to share exciting news or to seek advice in handling a tough situation. Whatever the reason, student affairs professionals have a knack for hanging on (in a good way) to their younger days, longer than our generational counterparts in other fields may be able to.

What I've found lately is that even within the set of younger staff, there is a silent, almost imperceptible rite of passage that takes place: when we move beyond the ranks of the "young professional," and "age up." 

When I started my graduate program, I was fortunate to be one of give graduate assistants working alongside a veritable army of entry-level coordinators also beginning their full-time employment that same summer. All of us were out to prove to higher-level staff that we were worth our paychecks and investments in time. We bonded over late hours: meeting with student groups, seeing events through, or putting the finishing touches on the next great masterpiece of student development theory research. We were young enough to have the stamina to work until 9 p.m., grab a late dinner together, and then get back up and do it all over again the next day. We played intramural volleyball together, watched football games in each others' living rooms, and were the first to sign-up for road trips with student groups, knowing we weren't leaving much behind except for an empty fridge and laundry that could wait. After all, that service trip meant another free t-shirt, right? We had other coworkers and supervisors who weren't part of this late-night, non-stop crowd. We never resented them for their schedule; we just didn't invite them to join us on our adventures. Partly because they were long gone by the time we needed dinner. Mostly because their lives were in a different place.

Somewhere along the way, though, we aged up. Personal relationships helped reprioritize our schedules; home ownership meant balancing late nights in the office with the perpetual battle for daylight when lawn mowing is on the line; and we finally had enough of a foothold on our work to say "no" when a student group wanted to schedule their regular meeting at 10 p.m. Colleagues across campus that we met with needed to meet at 9 a.m., not 9 p.m., so our schedules shifted up ever so slightly. But we still didn't feel any different.

Much like turning 25, when the only thing that is truly different is the ability to rent a car or moving into a different age range on a survey, there's a hint of change, but nothing dramatic. At some point, and I'm still not sure when it happened, we firmly planted ourselves on the other side of the age bracket. A new cadre of graduate assistants and coordinators now steers this ship in the evening, bubbling with excitement over running downstairs to grab dinner before the late-night event starts, planning outlet mall shopping excursions and game-watching parties, and signing up for retreats and conferences for a new crop of student leaders. And we aren't around to get invited. If we are in the office, it's usually with jackets on and bags packed to head out the door for the day.

There are times I feel left out, thinking I'm still capable of 20-hour days and four hours of sleep. But then I remember, I've got a lawn to mow and a dog who depends on me to get home at a decent hour. And I don't always make it through "The Daily Show" before falling dead asleep for the night.

Part of crossing that gap means also means having the honor of paving the way for the next wave of young professionals. So to the current YPs—and you all know who you are—rest assured that your late nights are numbered, and we'll be here waiting to help you over the gap when your time comes. 

Jeff Pelletier

Jeff Pelletier is the Director, Ohio Union Operations & Events at The Ohio State University.

Jeff oversees building operations including event production, audio-visual, shipping and receiving, and office administration in the Ohio Union. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Boston College, a master’s in higher education and student affairs from Ohio State, and is completing a master’s in business operational excellence also from Ohio State. He has been a volunteer forACUI at the regional and international level since 2003, currently serving on the Board of Trustees. Jeff is active on social media, developing his digital identity alongside the students, colleagues, and mentors who aren’t bored with his posts and updates. When not tweeting, Jeff is often seen running the streets of Columbus training for the next half-marathon or 5K.

Comments

Yep Yep! I had the double whammy of turning 35 after having a baby. Students used to see me as "Older Sister". Now I'm more "Fun Aunt" or something. It happens. Nice thing is - I'm okay with it!
Jennifer Keegin
jkeegin@binghamton.edu
Comment posted 05/05/2011 10:45 AM
Great post Jeff! It is hard, you feel like you are abadoning your students but the circle of life continues. Lawns to mow, babies to burp and if I ate dinner at 9pm, I'd need new pants.
Comment posted 05/09/2011 10:55 AM
Greta post, Jeff! I feel like I'm just inching past the new professional stage and can totally relate :) But I wasn't offended when one student called me the Campus Center Mom this past week!
Comment posted 05/11/2011 10:54 AM
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