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A college student in her 60s shares wisdom when it comes to reinventing oneself

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's a new year, and many of us are thinking about how to reboot, refresh and reinvent ourselves in 2024. Well, we've got some inspiration for you.

JOAN STEIDL: I just got my first smartphone, and all the bells and the whistles remind me that it's smarter than I am.

FADEL: That's 66-year-old Joan Steidl, who just recently retired.

STEIDL: Candidly, I feel too young to retire, so I'm going to take a retirement gap year to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

FADEL: Joan knows all about reinvention. In 2022, she made a whole podcast about it. In fact, she was a finalist in NPR's College Podcast Challenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST)

STEIDL: Hi. I'm Joan. And I will admit it - I struggle to use technology, but that just gives me some great material for my online comedy writing workshops.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIDL: Why do I need to learn Windows 10 when Windows 95 has been working just fine?

(LAUGHTER)

STEIDL: I decided to give comedy writing a try at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a fun first step towards reinventing myself. I'm channeling Betty White and trying to learn comedy writing. I've renewed my AARP membership, signed up for Medicare. So what's next? Time to return to college. The first day of class, I walked in with my flip phone, sharpened pencils, spiral notebooks. I felt like an 18-year-old again. I figured I fit right in.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIDL: Something came up in class. They wanted to know about something that happened in 1976. Everyone looks at me. And I'm like, why are you looking at me? Why do they think I have the answer?

(LAUGHTER)

STEIDL: But before you could say Alexa, I blurted out the answer. Everyone wants me on the bar trivia team now.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIDL: There was a 2019 study that showed there were over 6 million adult students enrolled in higher education. I'm one of them. Forty-plus years ago, I earned my first bachelor's degree. Today, I'm at Kent State, working on another one.

I do not understand social media.

MADDY HABERBERGER: Sometimes, I don't, either.

STEIDL: And when you said that last semester, that made me happy because I'm like, I am so out of it.

HABERBERGER: It's a lot.

STEIDL: Thank goodness for my energetic, 21-year-old Gen Z journalism classmate, Maddy Haberberger.

HABERBERGER: ...In so many ways. And it's, like, a language that we know. Generally, if you're going to talk to somebody my age, you can say, what's your Instagram? What's your Twitter? What's your Snapchat? What's your TikTok?

STEIDL: Why not just use email?

HABERBERGER: I think a lot of it for us is, again, because it's just what we know. We just grew up with it in a way...

STEIDL: I don't think I have the mental bandwidth to remember all the passwords for so many new accounts. It still seems easier to pick up a pen or use the landline.

HABERBERGER: Communication is just something that is so much a part of every part of our lives in different ways than it was with yours. I don't write letters, I send texts. But it's communicating. But we're doing it in a different way.

STEIDL: I love being my age, and I love being back in the classroom. School is keeping me engaged and energized, mentally active? It's like sudoku on steroids. Even my creaky knees feel young again.

HABERBERGER: Do you feel grown up, Joan?

STEIDL: No. No.

HABERBERGER: Absolutely. I don't feel grown up at 21. So I think a big misconception is, like, older people thinking the younger people are at a better place, or they're smarter. Or the younger people thinking the older people are smarter or more experienced or more grown up. It doesn't matter how old you are. Different age groups are just another perspective to connect with.

STEIDL: Pretty certain Comedy Central is not going to call, and I don't even think I'll make the dean's list, but that's not the point. I'm just having way too much fun learning, growing and reinventing myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDAPOLLO'S "BY THE RIVER")

FADEL: That was Joan Steidl, who's studying journalism at Kent State University. She was a finalist in the 2022 NPR College Podcast Challenge. The third annual contest for college students is open for just a few more hours today until midnight Eastern time. You can find more information on our website at npr.org/studentpodcastchallenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDAPOLLO'S "BY THE RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Janet W. Lee