How Was Your Day … 64-Year-Old Stanford Sophomore?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
It’s been a good day today because I got to kiss my wife this morning. I woke up at 5 a.m. and watched her get ready for work while I had a cup of coffee. Then I got on the bus to go meet with my adviser and talk about summer classes — I can’t afford to fall behind. At 64, I’m the oldest sophomore on campus.
At Stanford University, we get a lot of material thrown at us. I’m trying to learn how to walk up a steep hill. I was admitted in 1969, but I left in 1970 to go help build a clinic for low-income, disadvantaged communities in East Redwood City. I’ve had 40 years in health care as a respiratory therapist. For 18 years, I was founder and CEO of my own company with clinical accreditation. I worked with very tiny babies weaning them off life support with ventilator systems at Stanford’s Children’s Hospital. I co-published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 1979. I was even invited to Congress to talk about the cost of health care. I left Stanford to do something, to help someone. But now, I’m in a better place by my being here.
Life is hectic, but I’m grateful to have it. I easily put in 30 to 40 hours of homework every week and try to spend as much of my time as I can with my kids, my wife and occasionally a good friend. It’s embarrassing sometimes because I have not been a student for a while and I think I am a bit — or a lot — slower in some higher-tech communications, learning software and systems that did not exist when I was previously at school. I guess I am just being lazy when I ought to consult with my son about most computer functions or phone apps. I have my own little ChromeBook, but I prefer to take notes by hand because it helps me retain things better. I use Aspercreme for my wrists and forearms because they keep cramping from writing notes so fast to keep up. It’s humbling, it’s frustrating and, at other times, it’s very eye-opening. I’m dusting off the cobwebs.
I’m dusting off the cobwebs.
I am coming to know what it will take to be here, to succeed. I am lucky to be going back to school. I have wanted to do this for a long time. I kind of need to now. I started teaching at Foothill College about 10 years ago. I tried to get a full-time position at Foothill, but I hit a wall, even with my experience. I’m here at Stanford trying to get over the glass ceiling, if you will. I’m not sure people are recognized for what they have done or what they might be able to do. They’re judged on what they’ve been able to matriculate through. But sometimes that matriculation may constipate our system. As a heuristic experience, it takes much hard work and reflection on how I came to be here, where my family came from and the dedicated work it will take for me to remain here. I grew up in Palo Alto.
As a human biology major, I’ve seen so many concepts from class in my own life. But health is not the same as being able to walk into an emergency room. So how do we bring health — not just access to health — to communities? We need to even the playing field. I really believe there are ways to give people more information about their health care, to give more holistic health care. I’d like to make a difference in how to better approach health care systems.
I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I’m learning how to think again. It’s a work in progress.