Nearly 7,000 undergraduate students will begin classes Monday at Stanford University.
One of those students is Bob King, a sophomore originally from Palo Alto.
He’s also a senior.
King is a 65-year-old student who has returned to the Farm to finish his undergraduate degree.
Stanford University Undergrad Returns to Campus After Forty Years
"I have a lot more to learn," says King.
King first started his undergraduate degree at Stanford back in 1970. He was studying health care when he was given the opportunity to help build a clinic in a low-income community near Redwood City. He left school in 1971.
"I felt at that time that I could make more of a difference in building health care in a community that didn’t have any instead of studying health care here," King said.
Eventually he went to Foothill College and received an associate's degree in respiratory therapy. Along the way he got married and had four children.
He's worked at different hospitals and clinics for over forty years, but doesn’t yet feel he is done learning or advocating for better health policy. And, there are jobs he is interested in for which he will need a bachelor’s degree. So he applied to return to Stanford.
"I had spent forty years in health care and I had a lot of experience in terms of acute care, in terms of chronic care with children especially, but I felt like there was more to learn. And I felt like at 65 years old that I was not done."
Last year was his first year back as a student. His presence in the classroom confused his fellow students, most of whom are in their teens and twenties.
"When I came to the classroom a couple of times they thought I was the instructor for the first part of the year," King says with a smile.
King admits he had reservations about being the "old guy" in the classroom. But his faculty advisor Dr. Donald Barr has reassured him he is part of the community just like everyone else.
"It was clear to me from day one that he belongs here,” said Dr. Barr. "In fact he belonged here in the 1970s and he belongs here in 2016. It just took a while."
The campus has changed a lot since the seventies, and is much more technologically driven.
"They are all word processing really fast on their computers like this and I’m taking notes with a pencil and piece of paper," King said. "I had cramps in my wrists after the first month or so."
Yet King has realized his younger classmates are teaching him things he can’t learn on the job or in the textbook.
"Their eyes are much younger than mine and they are teaching me a lot of things, too," King said. "The young people on today’s campus have different attitudes than the people on campus in the seventies."
Yet he says many of the issues students are conscious of now are very similar to movements that begin in the years he was first on campus.
"They were protesting in the streets to stop the Vietnam War. The Black Panther party was talking about education and feeding children in communities and how it was important to have nutrition and how we weren’t supposed to be killing Black people in the community," King recalls. "I think people are starting to see that again. It’s not as revolutionary now as it was then."
Monday he begins the new school year as a major in comparative studies in race and ethnicity with a focus on healthcare. He will begin the school year as a sophomore, and after two quarters will be a junior.
He and his wife Leslie plan to live on campus until he graduates in 2018. He wants to start working as soon as possible so he can continue to save for retirement.
“Imagine being 65 years old and your husband says ‘I would like to stop work and go back to school,'” King said. He says his wife told him he was “brilliant” and “deserving” and would of course help him pursue his degree.
“She continues to encourage me and support my confidence,” King said.
After he graduates, King wants to find a job that will allow him to help improve healthcare by reducing costs and focusing on prevention.
“Going back to school once you’re over sixty years old is fine because you still have a mind, and you still have things to learn, King said.
"I believe people continuing their education, whether it's at a university or online or however they do it, is important because we still have contributions to make to our country, to the world and to our children. And we have a responsibility to do that.”