In 1992, Maryland was the first state to mandate community service for high school graduation. The class of 1997, with 43,249 students, was the first to fulfill that requirement with a minimum of 75 hours of service. One of the most successful aspects of the program was the inter-generational interaction between teens and elders. Students need to develop a more realistic picture of aging, and the only way teachers and parents can change the perceptions is for teens to live, work, play and interact with the over-80 crowd.
All too often in these days of age segregation and as families live apart from older family members, students need to be educated about the aging process, and consequently, many senior citizens are being invited to come into schools to tutor, talk, write and mentor today’s youth so that they will more positively perceive aging at 80. When a sample of students was asked about their community service interactions and their perceptions of life after 80 as a result of the inter-generational component, these were some of their comments:
At 80 years of age…
“I envision myself to have bone problems because I don’t drink milk, and I will most likely be a grandmother.”
“At 80 years old, I will be at home with my husband, sitting in the backyard and talking about all the great things that the Lord has done for us.”
“It would be really awesome if an average day at 80 began with a little snowboarding and ended at a punk concert at a local venue. I know this is a bit imaginative, but I really hope that is what life will be like in the future.”
“When I’m 80 years old, if I am still living, I hope to write a will, giving my money and property to my family. That’s all I want to do when I’m 80 years old.”
“When I am 80 years old, my day will start off with getting up at a Monte Carlo hotel. I will spend the day at the world-renowned casinos of Monte Carlo. In the evening, I will attend a royal ball thrown in my honor by the royal family of Monaco. The next day, I will do it all over again.”
“When I turn 80, I think my lifestyle will change some. I think I will be retired and get up when I please. I will then eat some breakfast and take a mile walk. Then, I will go out and help my wife with errands and food shopping. Also, on the way home, I will stop by my grandchildren’s house and spend some time with them. Finally, I will come home and eat my dinner. I will spend time with my wife and then go to bed.”
“When I turn 80, I will be enjoying my retirement and having a young, good-looking nurse to look after me.”
“At age 80, I would be surprised to still be moving by myself, but hope my wife is still alive. I would expect to be a grandparent, spoiling my grandchildren as much as I could.”
“During each morning, when my husband finally gets out of the bathroom, I would go in and get ready for my morning walk. Together we would take our usual morning stroll around the neighborhood with our three dogs. Along the way, we would wave ‘hello’ to the neighbors and children. On summer days, the kids would run through the sprinkler and drink lemonade just like they did when we moved in.”
“For the rest of the day, we would go around to community events and do some house work. Then, we would get together with friends for dinner or a movie and my life would be simple and tranquil. I would be on a great retirement plan. At night, I would go to bed and my life would be peaceful. That is how I want my day to be at age eighty.”
Thus, it is obvious to the reader from this small sample of Sherwood High School students in Sandy Spring, MD that the inter-generational component of community service programs has had a generally positive impact on the teens who participated. And those of us in our 80s can be proud that we have left such favorable impressions of aging on today’s youth, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if such impressions could result without the service mandate? We can only hope.