With a head of white hair and a slower gait than most of his classmates, Irwin Rosen, 80, doesn't exactly blend in with the students at Howard Community College.
Besides, anyone who sings songs in the school stairwells, where echoing vibratos sound like shower-stall solos, is hard to ignore.
"When he is not in class, the students wonder where he is," said Dr. Jerold Casway, who has taught Rosen in several classes and chairsthe school's social science department. "He has a tendency to be disruptive, but it is not intended. He has an affection for kids and faculty -- when you ask him to contribute, you can't contain him."
Rosen, a retired purchasing agent for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,has attended HCC since 1983, studying history, sociology, English, geography, communications and theater.
He's not interested in earning a degree, he just likes talking to people and learning from them, he says.
"They all wonder why I go to college," he said. "But I want to be able to be accepted because of respect for another person, not because of my age."
He has joined the Jewish Student Union and last fall performed in a school talent show, earning him special recognition -- a T-shirt given to him by student activities supervisor Esther Hill. It is emblazoned in hot-pink letters with the words "Ha, ha," and he wears it to classes with pride.
Walking through the corridors at HCC, Rosen is a familiar face to many students. But he alsoapproaches students he doesn't know.
"Good morning," he says goodnaturedly, then engages in a conversation that often includes questions about a student's goals and studies.
Or, while sitting in the lobby, he may break a rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
"He is a blast," said Deborah Paper, 21, a sophomore who took a vocal-music class with Rosen. "The teacher adored him. Irwin always had ananecdote. Irwin put us all to shame when he did his scales. Nobody wanted to go after him."
"They know me at the college as the guy who sings," Rosen said. "All my life to this day I sing for my own pleasure. I think I give people enjoyment with my voice. I sing from the time I get up until the time I go to bed."
Rosen describes his initial interest in going to school as a "freak" thing.
An avid swimmer, he was searching for a pool to swim laps each day when one of hisneighbors suggested that the University of Maryland, College Park pool would be ideal.
"I decided to take classes to see how I would be accepted," Rosen said. "I discovered that this (going to school) ismy fountain of youth."
That was in 1977. He and his wife, Sylvia,moved from Greenbelt to Columbia in 1982 and Rosen switched schools.
The Rosens have two children who attended college, but Rosen was convinced that he "didn't know anything about anything." His son is asystems analyst who lives with his wife and 4-year-old daughter in Alexandria, Va. His daughter, a Columbia resident, is a librarian.
Rosen's attraction to school was reciprocated.
"His philosophy maybe different, but the students will listen. . . . He brings the agestogether," said Esther Hill, student activities supervisor. "We justlove him."
Even though Rosen's current two classes -- "Western Civilization" and "Media" -- are finished by about noon, he usually sticks around campus until about 3 p.m., chatting and singing to anyone who will listen. He attends classes Monday through Thursday and arrives on campus at around 9 a.m. to get a parking space close to the school.
Although Rosen has given up swimming, he intends to keep on learning both from the students and in the classroom.
"I want to godown into the Guinness Book of World Records with the words, 'He went to college -- from the age of 65 till he was 90 years of age -- for25 years.' My epitaph will be, 'And he has no college credits,' " said Rosen with a twinkle in his eye.
Tom Worgo contributed to this story.