Seventeen again: What if we could go back and do it all again?

rodney-back-to-schoolBy Lisa Sugarman

So here I am, in the car, on my way home from our first college tour. The University of Vermont. And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure if the motion sickness I’m feeling right now is because I’m typing while Dave’s driving or because we’re on our way home from our first college tour. Too tough to call.

We’ve still got a couple of years left to let the reality of college ferment before it’s palatable, but it was definitely a big moment.

Actually, I’m really pretty okay with the idea right now, mainly because Riley is so okay with it. Thank God for that whole Cycle-of-Life thing. I’m grateful for that little hidden layer of protection that’s woven into all of us that buffers us just enough from the sadness of letting our kids go. Sort of like the fire retardant suits that firefighters wear that allows them to tolerate the heat of a barn burner without actually getting burned. They still feel the heat but without too much injury. Right now, to me, college is like that.

Either way, the whole trip got me thinking. Reminiscing, really. Remembering back to the perspective I had when I was seventeen and thinking about the perspective I have now. And lemme tell you, looking back now at where I came from then, I realize just how radically different those perspectives are just by virtue of nothing more than age and wisdom.

Think about it, even if you were a pretty grounded college freshman, which, knowing you, I’m sure you were, it wasn’t like you never screwed up. It’s inevitable. Happens to the best of us. You skipped class. You went to keggers. You went to your Introduction to Theory of Literature lecture with dark Wayfarers on and a really pounding headache and a queasy stomach. You did. We both know you did.

So haven’t you ever wished you could go back and do it again? Knowing what you know now. Can you just imagine? Looking back, I think I really could’ve had a good shot at a Mensa membership if I retained even half of what I was exposed to when I was in college. And I actually tried in school. Like really tried and really put myself out there. But even in spite of that, looking back as an adult and as a mom, I know I could’ve put myself out there even more than I did. I just know there’s plenty I let fall through the cracks just because, at 17, what the hell did I know? Right?

And now that the whole college process is dangling a few inches out in front of me again, like Swifty the Wonderland rabbit, I’m kind of wishing there was a way I could go back again. But this time it would be as the me now, not the me then. And wouldn’t that be something? Because this time I’d be totally present in the moment instead of just flitting from party to party. Uh, er, I mean moment to moment. (Sorry, mom.) This time I’d suck it dry. I’d get everything I could out of it. And, I’m pretty confident, without even so much as a keg stand.

Because what most of us inherently lacked the first time around, even in spite of how ready for college we were, was appreciation. And it’s only with age that we acquire wisdom and it’s only with wisdom do we learn appreciation. And these qualities are learned, believe me. They don’t come standard. They take decades of life experience to develop before they’re fully refined. And even then we’re not perfect. That’s why I think adults should automatically get a mid-life-do-over period that’s automatically built into our late adulthood. Because let’s be honest, there probably isn’t one of us who wouldn’t want to pack our bags and do it all over again knowing what we know now. We could kill it if we went back and used all the life experience we’ve learned up to now.

And of course since this is my fictitious and totally impossible little brainchild, I think the whole thing should be government subsidized, maybe worked into Social Security somehow. I’ll need more time to flesh out the higher-level details. So for now, let’s just call it like a Mature-Adult Higher Education Program that would allow people to take advantage of all the wisdom & perspective they’ve acquired in their adult life and use it to go back and get more out of college than they did the first time. Then, just imagine how productive we’d be when we returned to our lives to finish out our careers?

Maybe the program is a year, maybe two. I picture the curriculum as a condensed version of the four-year programs most of us took as undergrads. The only difference being they could accelerate it because most of us wouldn’t be partying or sleeping in or missing classes. And since the majority of us have pretty decent executive functioning by now, we should be able to stay focused and actually retain what we’re learning in that shorter time frame. Hell, maybe we could even get “Life Credits” and earn ourselves another degree. It could be like a B.A. in Life.

And since we’d be doing this at a point in our lives when our kids are either in college or just out of school, we’d be totally unencumbered by distractions. Because remember, part of My Plan is that the government pays our tuition AND our employers give us an automatic sabbatical from our jobs (fully paid, of course).

I don’t know where all this is going. I just know that this is the kind of thing my mind thinks about on 500-mile road trips. Sorry.

Let’s just say this, applications for the fall of 2014 are now being accepted. I figure it shouldn’t take more than a year to sell the US Department of Education on the idea. You think? So get your Trapper Keepers out, because if I get my way, we may all get the chance to go back.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at OR follow her blog at


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