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Long Commute? Advice to Succeed

By James ’23

Coming into 9th grade from a small Catholic school in Pasadena a mere 20 minutes away from my home, the commute to Harvard-Westlake was high on my “Things to Worry About” list after receiving my acceptance letter. I have to wake up at 5:20am, be out the door by 5:50am, bus to school from 6:10am to 8:00am, and then do it all over again in the afternoon? It all sounded crazy, even not worth it, to me. I could sometimes see its effect on my brother Louis, who decided to stay at the Middle School for the late bus almost every day, when I would pick him up at the bus stop with my mom at 7:10pm. He would limp off the bus with an open backpack, stacks of papers in hand, not speaking a word on the way home; like he’d just lived Cady’s first day in Mean Girls two times over. So, needless to say, I was pretty scared for my journey to school.

After experiencing 7 months of the Pasadena to Harvard-Westlake commute, (a first-year total cut down by 4 months due to COVID), I can tell you it’s been interesting. I won’t sit here and say a long commute is a wonderful, painless journey where I get all my work done; or that I’m not psyched to now wake up at 8:00am and simply log into Zoom instead of sitting on the bus; or even that those HW students who live closer to schools don’t have an advantage to those who live farther. What I am confident in saying, though, is that the downsides to a long commute can definitely be mitigated and can even be turned into advantages. So, with an almost year of experience, I can offer some tips that will hopefully answer your most pressing question: should I feel worried about the commute?

My most pressing worry, and I think it is a common one, was that the long commute would take away time from doing homework, sleeping, and other productive activities. Throughout the year, my parents would always remind me that I could get at least two of these done (sleep and homework) on the bus, and this is true. Sure, the bus isn’t the ideal place for either of these, and you don’t really ever want to annotate The Odyssey early in the morning, but I’ve found that I am able to consistently knock out bits and pieces of certain subjects while I’m on the bus. Even though there is a limit to the amount of homework I can get done on my commute, I’m still able to manage my activities, course load, and extracurriculars by doing as much of my work during the school day as possible. Remember that the bus affects your morning and night: I would get home at around 8:00pm from Cross Country practice on most days and would try to go to sleep at around 9:30pm. It was unlikely that any homework would be done then. But, Harvard-Westlake’s free periods are great for many reasons, one of them being the open time it provides to be productive. Take advantage of this! Do the written analysis of your Biology lab during lunch; Geometry proofs during days when your electives don’t meet; and English reading during break. If all else fails, studying the fall of Rome when stuck in traffic on Beverly Glen is always an option.

Reframe your notion of the bus from simply a thing that needs to happen to a block in your day where you can relax. Take your commute as a time to wind down after a school day. Talk to your friends about how practice went; check your email to see if anything is going on the next day; and reconnect with people from your old school on social media. If you have these things to look forward to at this time of day, you’ll eventually become fine with, and dare I say somewhat enjoy, your commute. 

Talk to your peers or teachers in the same position as you. I’ve made or deepened friendships with plenty of people just bonding over how far away we are from school, and, although that sounded weird to write, it is a legitimate experience that few students share. I had no idea how few students from the Eastside go to the Rose Bowl for anything other than UCLA games, or how they didn’t know the Americana is a close version of the Grove. I imagine it’s the same for people who live in Calabasas or the Palisades – though, ironically, I have no clue what they talk about.

As a last bit of advice to wrap this up, always keep your commute in context. Going to Harvard-Westlake is a fortune in and of itself, and a commute doesn’t change the experience on campus. At the same time, it is a valid and crucial concern for your grades, activities, and wellbeing – but it doesn’t need to affect any of those in a harmful way. Some days are easier than others, and even if you follow the tips (which I hope you will), sometimes there is no getting out of a couple hours of homework at home after a long day of school. Most days, though, don’t need to be like that, and if you can set up a routine that utilizes the free time in your schedule well, Harvard-Westlake can be a place of success, interest and, most importantly, enjoyment. And, whenever we go back to school in-person, I’m looking forward to the shorter commute to the Upper School!

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Tags: , Last modified: October 6, 2020