You should never stay in the same town where you went to college. While you get older, the university population stays the same age. A new generation supplants the older one, but the university students remain young.
I was on campus recently to see a play and took the time to walk around the place where, some 50 years ago, I was a student, where I studied English literature and learned how to think critically, protested the Vietnam War and demonstrated for women’s and civil rights, and started my journalism career working for the campus newspaper.
While most of the campus hasn’t changed physically, it felt different; for one, students young enough to be my grandchildren went by on skateboards. But it wasn’t the campus—with its stately stone buildings and ancient trees—that had changed but me. In the last part of my life, I am a different person and view the world through different lenses than when I was in my 20s. Was I feeling sad because of my lost youth? Would I like to go back to those years where life was charged with youthful energy and promise, and I had my whole life in front of me?
Yes, yes and yes. I can only say, like so many others: Where did the years go? What happened to that young, idealistic woman? Where did my energy go?
As we age, we live with continuous loss, but being in a college town only emphasizes those losses, because the town always caters to the young. I was the beneficiary of that philosophy when I was in my 20s and 30s, part of a generation that created our own culture—music, food, art, film. But now, almost all the restaurants I loved when I came here have been replaced by hipper places where I don’t feel comfortable. When I first arrived here, in the 1970s, there were at least 10 bookstores; now there’s three. The two small movie theaters where I learned to love art films are long gone.
Because of all the college students here, the average age in Boulder is 28. It might be better to live in nearby Estes Park, a tourist town full of retired people, where the average age is 61. Or maybe better to have left this town and moved to a Florida retirement village, where everyone is old, and there are no reminders of my past life, no manifestation of how much I’ve lost.
But, at my age, I don’t want to move. Most of my friends are here, and I have connections to people and places that go back more than 50 years. Over that time, I’ve found the best (and often least crowded) hiking trails. I live in a progressive community that has worked to protect the natural beauty of the place and is sensitive to the needs of its citizens.
The other night I attended a classical music concert, where I sat outside the historic concert hall and listened to the soaring music while gazing up at the imposing Flatirons rock formation that give this city its physical identity. Below me Boulder was spread out, aglow in the pink light from the sunset. Although much of this town has changed, I still find reasons to love it and stay. I’ll accept my losses while still loving what remains.