Assuming age as an agent of agency

Kevin Niederman


I have a problem and I'm not sure it's my fault.

When someone has authority over me, in any capacity, I assume that they are both older and more experienced than I.

My first semester here I was 22 and decided to live in the dorm. Cody Cowin was my RA, checking me in and making sure I was where I was supposed to be. It was his job to hold me accountable.

Because of this position of power over me, I simply assumed he must be 23, 24. I think he was actually 19 at the time.

Granted, Cody literally towers over the rest of us, and that might hold some sway in this assumption.

Similarly, as I work here at The Clocktower, I’ve always imagined that my superiors in the chain of newspaper command were too my superiors in age—I'm not sure there is a single one older than me. Yet, consistently, their age did not make their experience or advice any less insightful.

Funny enough, many of them were shocked at my age after I mentioned it in my previous article. Due, maybe, in part to the rung I occupy on The Clocktower ladder, or maybe it's just my adorable baby face.

We sort our children into classes for school based on age rather than competency. This creates an environment in which those older than you are not only bigger, but have conquered more knowledge than you in social studies or the dreaded maths. Accordingly, any students younger than you are both smaller and less learned. The different grades act as a basic class system of superiority.

That’s alright, I guess. But after high school, things change.

I'm just as likely to share a class with an 18-year-old as I am with a 68-year-old, and it's really difficult to see these people as my peers.

For example, when I first met my friend Connor, I was selling my plasma at Biotest.

My veins have always been a difficult stick, and after a couple people tried and failed, they went to get the most experienced phlebotomist on the floor: Connor. As I watched him work, I was in awe. He was clearly a professional, in his early 30s, and had the experience and qualifications necessary to stand head and shoulders above his so-called peers.

The next time I saw Connor was practically a year later as a classmate in the nursing program. I didn't immediately recognize him. When I saw him, I thought he too was a college kid like me—23 or 24, talentless, aimless, hoping to find purpose and meaning here at the nursing center.

He's 20, which means he was 19 when I first met him.

The two people I saw in him were completely different, and neither embodied who he really is.

The link I perceive between age and agency is indistinguishable, and I don't think I'm the only one who sees things that way.

The problem is this thinking acts counter to how the real world is. After a certain point, we are all just adults. I can't look down on a potential boss or the president of the United States because they happen to be younger than me.

And at some point, I'll have to stop looking up to people simply for being older than me, constantly looking for an adult to help. It terrifies me that someone might look up to me simply for being older when in fact I'm certain I have no part of my life together.

It's an issue of perspective, and I'm the only one who can change my perspective. I'm just as likely to find a 50-year-old man who reads at a sixth grade level as I am an actual sixth grader who can do the same. Seeing people as people instead of betters, lessers, or equals would do a lot, not only to end my confusion and over-reliance on others, but to help end my relentless judging of others as well.

Kevin Niederman is a junior nursing major hailing from Santa Rosa CA, about an hour north of San Francisco. He enjoys cartoons, hats, and driving ridiculous distances for food that has the potential of being amazing.