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‘All I want to do is hopefully make a change’: Coming to Miami as a 33-year-old student

David Peters is a 33-year old student that commutes two hours for class at Miami University.
David Peters is a 33-year old student that commutes two hours for class at Miami University.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, David Peters drives 130 miles to sit in class for two hours at Miami University.

Peters is used to long drives — he used to be a truck driver. For the 33-year-old student, commuting from New Carlisle to Oxford isn’t fun, but it’s not breaking any records for distance.

At 15, Peters’ dad died. Both of his parents struggled with addiction. Peters wanted to be a lawyer, but he had to put off college to work or else his mom would face eviction.

Originally from Kansas City, Peters has moved 40 times, most before he was 18. During his freshman year in high school in 2004, he and his family lived in a duplex on a low-income street near a lake surrounded by million-dollar houses.

“The smell of Abercrombie Fierce will never leave my nose,” Peters said. “Everybody was so rich and preppy and stuck up, and if you didn’t have the nicest newest stuff, then nobody would talk to you.”

At Miami, where more students come from the richest 1% of families than from the poorest 20%, Peters found more of the same.

“Coming to Miami, it feels like I’m reliving that a little bit,” Peters said.

As a nontraditional student, Peters said it’s been impossible to make friends on campus. He remembers one girl handing out flyers to every student who passed her, but when he walked past, he was invisible.

That’s why he reached out to the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion to start an organization for older students at Miami. Peters is graduating in May and said progress on the initiative has been slow, but he hopes the group will help other students like him.

“All I want to do is hopefully make a change so that the next 30-year-old student who comes here doesn’t have that kind of experience,” Peters said.

The university has work to do in preventing age discrimination among its students, Peters said. He recalled one staff member telling him the administration couldn’t help how students act.

“Would that really be acceptable if it was a racial minority? Or a gay minority?” Peters asks. “You can’t just tell me that, ‘The students, well, we can’t worry about what they do.’”

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During Peters’ drives, he’s had a lot of time to think about why he’s here.

His mom died a few years ago, and his siblings are all adults. He made almost six figures as a trucker, and he said he’ll likely make less than that after graduating with his degree in urban and regional planning.

Still, it’s worth it.

“I always thought that there was something else I was destined to do in this life,” Peters said, “and that starts with graduating from college and getting a degree.”