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Adventures in Lifelong Learning

Evergreen Program celebrates 30th anniversary


Bay State Road residents Fred and Lynn Basch, taking in Joseph Boskin’s Slices of American Comedy lecture last month. Photo by Melody Ko

Several dozen students filed into a lecture hall last month and took seats in front of a giant projector screen. Throughout class, they listened attentively, took notes, and asked well-honed questions.

But there was something about these students that set them immediately apart from the usual college student toting coffee mugs, baseball caps, and laptops. Many at the lecture, titled Slices of American Comedy: Standup Routines, Quirky Scenes, and Zany Bits, taught by Joseph Boskin, a College of Arts & Sciences professor emeritus of history, were bespectacled, white-haired, and wore hearing aids.

Meet the Evergreen Program students. Run by Metropolitan College, the program has been bringing older students to campus for three decades. To enroll, students must be at least 58 years old. For a nominal fee ($125 per course, $325 for full access for an academic year), participants can audit classes and attend lectures and seminars taught by University professors.

"I’m retired," said former Fidelity Investments executive Bill Ahern, 64, who was attending Boskin’s lecture. “This helps me broaden my horizons.” For the past three years, he has traveled from his home in Dunstable, Mass., regularly to attend events.

Ahern is among 1,500 students participating in this year’s Evergreen Program, which today celebrates its 30th anniversary with presentations, a concert, and a reception at the George Sherman Union’s Conference Auditorium.

President Emeritus John Silber (Hon.’95) created the Evergreen Program in 1980 at the suggestion of a friend, retired Marine Corps officer Victor Krulak, who saw a similar program while traveling in France. The idea behind the program, says Rebecca Alssid, director of Lifelong Learning, was to reach out to seniors in neighboring communities and invite them to engage with BU students while tapping in to the University’s academic wealth.

“It was a way to give back to the community on one level,” Alssid says.

The program started small, with just 35 students. Those first Evergreeners attended special all-day lectures on topics ranging from music and art history to international relations and communications during a six-week summer session.

By September, Alssid says, the participants had one message: “We want more.”

The program has expanded exponentially by allowing students to audit classes as well as attend lectures. Participants can sign up for any University class, with the professor’s permission. They aren’t required to do course work or take exams, although some do.

In the beginning, roughly 70 percent of the program’s students had only a high school diploma, Alssid says. Today, Evergreen includes people from a wide array of backgrounds, some holding doctorate and medical degrees. The median age is 72. Most say they sign up for the intellectual stimulation the program offers and to meet people and keep busy.

This fall’s lecture lineup includes such topics as American Popular Culture: Classic Connections, Making Music in the Face of Adversity, Topics in American International Relations, and Best Short Stories.

Most younger students welcome their older counterparts into the classroom, but there is the occasional complaint, Alssid says, when an Evergreen participant dominates class discussion (something she actively discourages).

“I think they looked at them a little strangely when they first showed up: ‘Who are these students and aren’t they a little old to be in college?’” says Michael Loman, a College of Communication professor of film and television, who welcomes elder students into his classes and taught a fall Evergreen lecture on Sesame Street. “Eventually students appreciated where they were coming from.”

Susan Mizruchi, a CAS professor of English, gave a lecture this fall on J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. She says Evergreen students add historical perspective to her classes.

And, says Boskin, “They could easily teach undergrads how to pose and ask a question.”

The Evergreen Program celebrates its 30th anniversary at 1 p.m. today, Tuesday, November 2, in the George Sherman Union Conference Auditorium, second floor, 775 Commonwealth Ave. The $10 fee includes admission to a concert, presentations, and a reception. Registration is required to attend this event, open to current and former Evergreen participants. Call 617-353-9852 to register.

Register here for Evergreen lectures and discussions. To audit classes, register in person at the Lifelong Learning Office, 808 Commonwealth Ave., Room 111.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.


2 Comments on Adventures in Lifelong Learning

  • Anonymous on 11.02.2010 at 7:49 am

    I wish there was a program like this for women who want to return to work force

  • Anonymous on 11.04.2010 at 7:34 pm

    My experience in and out of Evergreen.

    After retiring from industry in the early 90s I started taking courses through Evergreen. BTW – the fee was only $25. then. One of the courses was in the College of Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept., where I got to known one of the outstanding academics in that group. I took a course with him. A couple of years later we met the lobby of the Photonics Center, as I was leaving after a session in another Engineering course. We chatted and when he realized that I had been taking Engineering courses for the past several years, well into my retirement, he flashed. His face took on an expression of pure inspiration and he said, ” Why don’t you come to work for me, you have a lifetime of professional experience. You’d be a magnificent resource for my students.

    Punch line: He hired me and I’m still employed at BU, going on 14 years.

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