The Same Conversations

Sep 29

by second-year Raveena Patel

Before I came to college, I had never thought I would share a classroom with someone from my grandparents’ generation. When I look around some of my classes, however, it’s evident that being a college student doesn’t require you to be of a certain age, generation, or background. Though these dissimilarities exist, through the simple act of conversation, we might discover our hopes, dreams, and reasons for being here aren’t as different as expected. I came to appreciate this when I spoke with Mr. Rodger Carroll, a 67-year-old retired teacher and Vietnam War veteran from Memphis, Tennessee, who is a student in my Spanish 1002 class.

Q: Why Spanish?

A: Well two years ago I married a woman who is from Argentina, and once I traveled to Argentina with her, I decided I needed to start learning some Spanish. I knew I would have a good tutor at home, so why not? And I love languages. When you study a language, you study the whole culture. You study the way that culture thinks, their conceptual categories. It’s a lot of fun learning about people and their history.

Q: Had you been a college student before this?

A: Yes, as an undergraduate student I studied philosophy, because I was thinking that it would be good preparation for law school. Then I got interested in philosophy itself, and after I got my B.A. and worked for a couple years, I decided to go to graduate school in philosophy here at the University of Georgia. That was in 1977.

Q: What is it like being a student at UGA now versus in 1977?

A:  There are a lot of differences. It’s faster paced, there are a lot more students, and you can see a growing accretion of technology. And kids are walking around with things stuck in their ears, and they didn’t do that before! The campus itself is also different. There are a lot of different buildings; the Tate Center and the Miller Learning Center didn’t exist. The top tier of Sanford Stadium wasn’t there yet. It’s changed, but I think it’s all changed for the better!

Q: When you were my age, 20, where did you think life was going to take you?

A: Well I joined the army when I was eighteen, went to Vietnam when I was nineteen, and was medically retired at twenty because I lost both of my legs. I had no real expectations; I just knew I wanted to get out and get on with my life after I spent a year in the hospital. And after about a year and a half, I realized I needed to go back and get an education. There were a lot of gaps in my upbringing that I needed to fill. And I had some great teachers. They expanded my view of the world, helped me see a bigger picture of what’s out there, and helped me understand that there is a bigger picture. They were great people, and I’ve had people like that throughout my life. You can’t do it alone. I can think about Vietnam and think about the bullets breaking the sound barrier over my head or seeing people die or get wounded, and I know that it’s good to be alive. Life is good. I know that. Eat it up, because it only happens once.

Q: What is it like spending so much of your time so close to my generation, a generation significantly different from your own?

A: You guys aren’t so different. You’ve got hopes and dreams. You come here with hopes and dreams and desires about what you want to do, how you want to live, and who you want to meet. We had the same hopes and dreams. That’s what being human is. And young people are inspiring to me; I’ve met so many intelligent kids during my time here and I feel I can learn from them. You guys are going to do well, trust me.

Q: What are some of conversations that you hear around you from your fellow classmates and what do you think about them?

A: I hear you guys talking about your boyfriends and girlfriends, but people have been doing that for thousands of years! You guys have the same problems we had; you’re not that different. Same conversations; just different language, different people.

Q: What advice do you have for those of us just starting out on our journey of learning, learning about life and ourselves?

A: Never fly at night in a thunderstorm in Peru! Actually, just embrace life! Life is a challenge and there are always going to be hardships and dead-ends. But never give up. Set goals for yourself, and never give up on those goals. Sometimes you might realize that the goal isn’t worth it or that you’ve changed your mind, but that’s just called growing as a person.  Life takes work, and you are going to be confronted by choices; be ready for that. Be aware of your world and pray for wisdom and a discerning mind. That’s what I would say!
Rodger Carroll has traveled the world, fought in a war, and had an extensive education in philosophy, none of which I’ve done. And yet, in that small space of time during which we shared a pot of coffee and some conversation, I realized we had become friends.

photo by Taylor Canderday