Bad Boy Jacob ‘n His Bodacious Babes

(photo by Mike Miriello ('09))

The classroom is abuzz. Students are talking, laughing, comparing notes. Someone drops a book. Several other scramble to help him pick it up. A few more students straggle in, looking for seats. They rearrange chairs. The teacher glances at the clock: 9 a.m. He closes the door and tries to get their attention: “Good morning.” He’s smiling. Someone’s cell phone goes off. The culprit blushes as she digs the phone out of her pocket and silences it. It’s a problem.  At least the lecture hasn’t started.

“Beautiful day for learning,” he says. “Please turn off your cell phones.” The teacher is patient, enthusiastic, welcoming. Seniors!  he thinks. They are irrepressible. We need a cell phone rule. The teacher makes a mental note: I’ll talk to Nancy*.

He begins and soon his audience of seniors is quiet, enthralled in learning. It’s an ordinary, run-of-the-mill college class, right?  Typical of seniors ready to take on the world.

But look closer. Many of the students are gray haired and mature. Seniors, yes. But not college seniors. These are seniors in life. And they are ready to take on the world.  The world of learning.

They have gathered at one of dozens of spots all over Harrisonburg to learn about subjects that are almost comically diverse: Moon rocks. Politics. Watercolors. Photography. Cathedrals. The Bible. Beer. And who could resist a title like Bad Boy Jacob ‘n His Bodacious Babes**.

On any given day, they collect in classrooms or recreation centers or church basements to learn. They are part of JMU’s Lifelong Learning Institute. And tomorrow night, March 2, they will gather to celebrate 15 years of the program that has offered learning opportunities for hundreds of community members. They will dine on chicken and pesto tortellini. They will chat and laugh and relish the opportunity that they so wisely have embraced to remain lifelong, engaged learners.

In this respect, we can only hope that today’s college seniors will never change — that they will grow only more inquisitive, more interested and more engaged in learning every day for the rest of their lives — just as their senior counterparts at LLI.

In honor of JMU’s Lifelong Learning Institute’s anniversary, I asked BTC intern and current senior Tyler McAvoy to write about it. He proves that learning is not limited by age, on either end of the spectrum. Based on what he has written, I’m sure  that in a few decades, or much sooner perhaps, this senior will be stumbling into a Lifelong Learning Institute class. (Note to Tyler: turn off your cell phone first.)

A Smorgasbord for the Curious

by Tyler McAvoy (’12)

I describe myself as a perpetual learner, one who, for one reason or another, likes to spend all my time learning about things. I like to cover a wide range of topics too; everything is fair game to me because everything, even what some would consider the most boring things in the world, contains some ounce of mystery that I’m compelled to solve. I am often a victim of my innate curiosity, but it’s one of those things that I like to let loose whenever it gets the notion to do so.

So when I heard about the Lifelong Learning Institute, I was intrigued.

You see, at this moment, I don’t have much time to really explore all of the things that I wish to, with my school and work schedule.  Sure, I’m taking loads of interesting classes, but working toward a degree and learning for fun are two much different things.  If types of learning could be classified as people, degree learning might be a stingy librarian type who prefers the color gray, drinks cold, black coffee and who’s idea of a good night out is an instructional booklet on tape.  On the other hand, learning for fun would be the type of individual who wears colors, talks about rock bands, and appreciates the weirder parts of YouTube.  The gap is fairly wide between them.

The Lifelong Learning Institute caters more to those who seek the latter. There are no grades, nor credits, nor is there any type of diploma or degree for completion. It is simply a curriculum of interesting classes that explores all of those things that you’ve had questions about.

Want to learn how to brew your own beer? There’s a class for that.  How about the difference between a Viceroy butterfly and a Monarch? There’s a class for that. What about the best watercolor techniques, the history of the Shenandoah Valley, or how about how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been portrayed through art? Guess what? There are classes for all of those, as well.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, and every interest seems catered to. Whether it be wannabe musicians, armchair theologians or pontificating philosophical political peoples, anyone can join the program and gain something from it.

At some point, I’m going to graduate and my degree learning experience will be over.  I hope this will lead to more free time to study what I want to study and get answers to questions that I’ve always had.  A program like this could provide the opportunity a person in my shoes is looking for, and with such a wide range of classes and topics, might just be able to satisfy my curiosity’s appetite to learn and discover.

To learn more about LLI, visit their website at
*Nancy is Nancy Owens, director of LLI, who pulls it all together every semester, recruiting teachers, strategizing locations and signing up students. We’ll get to Nancy in another post.
** LLI member Mary Lou McMillin is teaching this course this semester. Now aren’t you interested in LLI?  

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to Bad Boy Jacob ‘n His Bodacious Babes

  1. Tom says:

    You’ll get there, Tyler, as long as you heed your mentor and “turn off the cellphone” … and, oh, learn to drop your stereotypes in the third paragraph. Just a suggestion if you really want to become a LLI-er.


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