Different

Many students expand their view of the world during their time in college. Such growth often results from encounters between students who have lived different cultural, economic, or academic experiences. With your future growth in mind, describe a potential classmate that you believe you could learn from either within or outside a formal classroom environment.

He walked into the classroom like any other student would on his first day of class. He carried the same books, same vaguely uncomfortable air about him, and same barely-concealed eagerness to learn as the rest of us. Yes, in all regards he was a perfectly normal student, except for the one thing that struck me profoundly from the outset: he was old. He was in his mid-40s, by my estimation, a bear of a man with a large but neat salt-and-pepper beard and a jovial, laid-back atmosphere about him. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and never hesitated to share a quick witticism or one of his many anecdotes. He was experienced, worldly. This man had been everywhere, done everything, and had something to say about it all. No matter the subject, there was some little song of experience to be sung, some small scrap of knowledge to be imparted to us youngsters (as he called us). I would grow to respect this man, and I began to look forward to seeing him. I truly valued the insight he could give me into things I had not, and in many cases, could not have yet experienced. Sure, the other students may have come from different backgrounds than I did, but we all shared some pretty fundamental similarities: we had all grown up in the same age, we were all limited in our perception by our oh-so-few years, and we had never known anything other than life at home and school. This grizzled veteran of life’s many battles could teach us something we could never have taught one another: the real world. Not the sanitized, G-rated version we all get from our parents, but the world as it is: the sordid with the sublime, the brutal with the beautiful. He taught me life, and that invigorating love of life that can only come with experiencing its many ups and downs.It’s true; he wasn’t really one of us. He didn’t live in the dorms with us, and come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw him outside that one class and occasionally walking across campus. I guess it’s just as well, since he had a job and family to worry about. In spite of all the warmth he shared, and the respect we accorded him, he never quite fit in- I’m not sure that he could have, the divide was simply too profound. Instead of the youthful camaraderie and playful competition I had with the other, traditional students, our relationship was more reserved; the weary lines of concern etched on his face testified that he was past the age where all of life is a joke and nothing is sacred. I think this separation made me value his company even more- he wasn’t just a friend; he wasn’t one of the myriad acquaintances in and around the school, he was a cousin, father, brother, comrade, confidante, and mentor, but most of all, he was himself, a unique individual the likes of which I’d never encountered before.It was hard to see him go on that last day of class together. We both knew, however, that it would have to end some day, and that we both had our own radically different lives to pursue. I haven’t seen him since, but I carry the lessons he’s imparted within my heart to this very day.

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