The journey is the reward for one Hamline University commuter student

Gotta have a window seat: Hamline University freshman Gino Terrell treats his daily bus commute like a study hall session.
Photo By: Submitted
Just like the other students who were expected to be on time, I felt like I should be held to the same standard. I chose to be a commuter.

It’s one thing to live on campus. It’s another to drive to campus. It’s a completely different experience to take an estimated hour-and-a-half bus trip to campus every day.

A teacher in high school taught me that there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse, which is a philosophy I use to keep myself grounded. Sure, there are challenges and obstacles on my daily journey as a first-year commuter student at Hamline University in St. Paul. But it also leads to some interesting moments — and that’s what makes my college experience great.

The first bus I take is in Maple Grove, and it departs off Dunkirk Lane slightly less than a quarter-mile walk from my home to the bus stop. I get on at the first stop, so I always get a window seat on the right side of the bus, which is great because if I had to sit on the outside edge of the seat, I wouldn’t be able to focus. My first bus is filled with suits and ties, so they’re generally quiet, which helps me get into school mode.

The bus is my study hall. It’s my time to prepare for the day. Typically, I read, study notes or come up with inspiration for my writing, whether it’s for class or Hamline’s student newspaper, The Oracle. My high school study hall was filled with distractions, so that’s probably why I’m able to stay attentive on the bus. But it isn’t always easy. I’ve had to share the bus with loud, obnoxious passengers who, for some reason, want everyone to hear them shout at 6 a.m. Or in the afternoon, buses can get pretty rowdy downtown, to the point that I can’t focus, so I have to rethink my plans and just wait to work until I get home. Either way, with my small white earbuds in, I listen to my tunes and attempt to block out the noise. But it’s never too loud where I can’t hear the bus driver yell, “Hennepin!”

I transfer downtown at Hennepin and catch another bus that leads to St. Paul, where I get off at Snelling. From Snelling, I take my final bus down the street, pull the yellow cord to request my stop and head to campus. In the afternoon, I do it all over again in reverse. Sounds simple, easy, routine and smooth. However, my journey is never that simple, easy, routine or smooth.

Let’s start with the elephant in the Midwest. Like all commuters in Minnesota, I have to deal with the unpredictable weather and prepare for strenuous conditions, whether it’s rain, sleet or snow. I have been through the worst of the worst — most notably, heavy rain that resulted in a knee-high flood on the day of my midterms — which made it extremely difficult to concentrate on an exam with my pants and shoes soaked.

The trip is also “estimated” to be an hour-and-a-half. Snow, traffic, a bus coming late or not coming at all stretches this time span — especially when dealing with three buses. As I learned quickly, you also have to catch that first bus. That’s where waking up early is crucial.

During the fall semester, I had a class that started at 8 a.m. The latest bus I could have grabbed was listed at 6:08 a.m. But since that particular class had a policy where one tardy would result in a three percent final grade deduction, I didn’t want to take any chances. So I took the earliest 781A at 5:42 a.m.

Now, the professor was a down-to-earth teacher and probably would have understood my circumstances and let a tardy slide. But I didn’t tell her. Frankly, I didn’t need to. Just like the other students who were expected to be on time, I felt like I should be held to the same standard.

I chose to be a commuter. It wasn’t because of any other circumstances. So I need to back up that decision and be responsible for my own actions. A professor also told me that one class session at Hamline is equivalent to $225. As hard as my parents worked to provide this opportunity for me, I’m not letting that money go down the drain.

A perfect example was the April 11 snowstorm. The conditions were so terrible outside, my mom even said she was taking a day off, and asked me to do so. But, to me, it was like Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asking if NBA star LeBron James would want to sit the night out because of a paper cut. I was just too determined to get to school that day. I decided to run through the snow, hail, and even under the thunder, to make my first bus. That’s when I realized that not many other students could commit to the life of a college commuter.

When I tell others about my experience and how far I travel, they typically ask, “Well, why don’t you live on campus?” It’s because of my family and the comfort of living at home. I understand that I may not get the true “college experience” by evading time in the dorms, but I’m known for being a bit unorthodox. Even under tight circumstances, I’m still involved at Hamline through the student paper, Hamline Undergraduate Student Council and communication newsletter.

However, perhaps the biggest reason is that my parents were also commuters. My father graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2003, and my mother is on pace to graduate from U of M in 2014, so she’s going through this same experience with me. I often think about all the responsibilities my father took on when he went to college — raising me and my brother, dropping us off at school, and generally just doing everything he could to take care of the family while still taking classes. He did all that and never complained. In fact, he made college life seem so easy and fun, making sure to still have season tickets to Golden Gophers football games and taking the family on vacations during his break. He’d always share stories about college life when he dropped me off at school. I think those moments, more than anything, are what inspired me to have the dream of going to college since I was little.

Mainly, it’s a reminder that my circumstances aren’t nearly as challenging as his. It makes me think, ‘Well, if he could do all that and still earn his degree, then my experience should be a cakewalk!’ Also, I have fun doing it, and rather than looking at commuting as a challenge, I look at it as a “my college experience.” A college experience that’s unique and different from all the others.

At the end of each day, I can still go home and see family, enjoy a delicious home cooked meal and sleep in my own bed. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

Gino Terrell, a freshman at Hamline University and ThreeSixty summer camp alum, is pursuing a career in broadcasting and sports writing.