Half a century

06 Sep 2021

After a week of (more or less) corona-proof partying and first campus-impressions, more than 3,000 introduction participants have now returned to campus for their first week of classes. And as I look over the campus, I do wonder: who is this new generation of students about to trot the university grounds? A lot of Zoomers – members of generation Z, born between 1997 and 2010 – would be one answer to this question. But strictly speaking, it is not the only one.

More than half a century lies between the oldest and the youngest participants of this year’s introduction, who are, respectively, 66 and 15 years old. But what does half a century even mean? Depending on whom you are asking: a lot of things. Little in the age of news tickers, but next to nothing for prehistorians. Half a century is roughly the current life expectancy in the Central African Republic – and more than the average amount of lifetime most students entering the university today have still ahead of them.

In the case of the youngest and oldest member of Radboud’s new student generation, it means almost a lifetime of different experiences. While the youngest new student is younger than Facebook, the oldest is older than the (late) Berlin Wall. When France executed the last person using the guillotine, the oldest student was already twenty-two. When the youngest entered elementary school, Apple had just introduced the iPhone 5. The oldest was born before the moon landing, the youngest when Pluto had just been downgraded to a dwarf planet. It means that while the youngest has never lived in a pre-9/11 world, the oldest was alive at the same time as Martin Luther King jr. and John F. Kennedy.

It, however, also means ­that despite a lifetime of different experiences, both the youngest and the oldest student have arrived at the beginning of the same strange university experience. They will both have to tackle the challenges that come with studying during a pandemic – and the ones that simply come with being a new university student. They will, like everyone else, have to deal with Zoom meetings and deadlines, with social distancing and new social contacts. And whether they have started university at 66 or 15, they will one day inevitably leave this place a different person than they have entered it.

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