There's (Still) No Place Like Home for Them

There's (Still) No Place Like Home for Them

A handful of undergrads choosing to live with their families keep alive BC's commuter legacy

By Sean Smith
Chronicle editor

No, they say, they've never considered themselves a rare breed, or a link to the BC of previous generations.

Carroll School of Management junior Roger Randall's commute to BC from his family home in Topsfield can take as much as three hours round trip. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
But that is exactly what Boston College undergraduates Shannon Starck, Kerri Milligan, Roger Randall and Nora Kaleshian are, on both counts.

The four are among a handful of Boston College students who make the daily trek to Chestnut Hill from their family homes, instead of living in an off-campus apartment or a campus residence hall.

As such, they follow - sometimes literally - in the footsteps of the undergraduates who for decades symbolized BC's commuter-college era, riding the old Lake Street trolley or getting a lift in a crowded sedan to a campus which offered no student housing until after World War II.

Boston College's evolution into a national Catholic university is a long, complex, and sometimes controversial chapter in its history. But as the 90th anniversary of BC's relocation to Chestnut Hill approaches, the commuter-college legacy manages to survive, if barely, in the person of 46 undergraduates who return to the familiar comforts of home and family after a busy day on the Heights.

To be sure, numerous socioeconomic, demographic and other characteristics set these students apart from most of their antecedents - including the 71 who arrived for classes at brand new Gasson Hall in March of 1913. Yet in their descriptions of the commuting student life ring some distant echoes of earlier undergraduates.

"I have never wanted to live in a dorm, I've always known it's not for me," said Milligan, a freshman psychology major from Braintree whose parents are former BC commuters. "Most people can't wait to leave college because of the freedom and to get away from their parents. I have as much freedom as I need and I get along really well with my parents - they trust me completely.

"It's so nice to have the comfort of home. I cannot imagine living in a tiny room with someone else and having to share a bathroom with so many other girls," added Milligan, with a laugh. "Truthfully, it's like my worst nightmare."

Although some student commuters say the economics of living at home influenced their decision to eschew dorms and off-campus apartments, like Milligan they also find that atmosphere is a major consideration.

"I have my room, my parents, my brother [a Northeastern University student who also lives at home], and my dinner on the table," said Newton resident Kaleshian, a sophomore in the Connell School of Nursing. "It's just very reassuring."

Starck, a Carroll School of Management sophomore from Canton, agreed. "I talk to my friends on the phone, and things so sound hectic sometimes it is a wonder they get work done. I'm just used to the surroundings of home, and I have a routine of getting my work done around the same time."

Randall, a CSOM junior, had another compelling reason to stay at his family home in Topsfield: It has enabled him to keep his lucrative pizza delivery job. But Randall acknowledges that the two to three-hour round trip commute - some days by car, others by bus and the MBTA - can be wearing at this point of the semester.

Roger Randall says he doesn't mind the long trek to BC from Topsfield and back- for one thing, it's enabled him to hold onto a lucrative pizza delivery job. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
"It's usually not a problem except for when I have group projects, because seemingly everyone always wants to meet around 8 p.m., which is very difficult - and being in CSOM, this happens a lot," he said. "The other problem is only becoming apparent now: I attend many informational sessions with prospective employers, and that can mean wearing a suit all day or lugging it around and then finding a place to change."

Commuting from home was about the only choice for BC students when University Historian Thomas O'Connor '49, MA'50 was an undergraduate. Although there were a few boarding houses in the vicinity, they were largely the domain of BC's football players - and there were curfews and other rules of conduct to observe, O'Connor notes. Pizza delivery was years away, so he and his fellow students found other jobs, like shoveling snow at the railroad yards or working at the South Station postal annex during the Christmas rush.

But students of the pre-World War II Boston College, often the first in their families to go to college, were happy to stay at home with parents and siblings if it meant getting an education, says O'Connor.

"We recognized that commuting to and from BC would be different from living at, say, Harvard or Dartmouth, but we accepted it as part of our lives," he said.

By day, says O'Connor, these young men - BC being all-male until the 1950s - dwelled in a world seemingly far removed from the close-knit Irish and Italian neighborhoods to which many of them returned at night. That contrast began to change in the years after World War II, as Boston's Irish and Italian communities became more educated, sophisticated and wealthy.

"Parents had more choices for their kids," said O'Connor. "For Irish-Catholic kids in my generation, or before, BC was the only place. BC's philosophy for attracting students was pretty simple: 'They know us.' But now those families were looking elsewhere, and their kids said, 'If I can't have the chance to live on campus, I won't come.'

"So BC ultimately realized that to be competitive it couldn't be a commuter school anymore. It had to be recognized as a university, and that meant building dormitories."

A latter-day variation on the ethnic solidarity associated with the commuter students of old from South Boston or West Roxbury might be glimpsed in an undergraduate like Kaleshian, who hails from a similarly well-bonded Armenian community.

"It's a cultural thing," said Kaleshian. "A lot of my friends who go to area colleges still live with their parents. Your time at college is very important, of course, but it's also important to be with your family."

For Kaleshian and other commuters, cultivating friendships in classes or through extracurricular activities is as much a vital part of their on-campus time as it was for O'Connor and his generation.

"I was very impressed by how much the students would do, day in and day out," O'Connor said. "When they weren't in class or studying, they participated in activities like the Glee Club, Dramatics Society and student government. They felt this was an opportunity to improve themselves, and they took it."

A student like Milligan has a useful perspective through her commuter alumni parents, Patti '75 and David '74. Patti Milligan, a Brighton native, says she and her future husband, from Jamaica Plain, were part of what was still a good-sized "home commuter" population at BC. But the transition to a residential university was well under way, she says, and the commuter students felt increasingly compelled to maintain their identity - some even began publishing a newspaper called The Ryder to focus on commuter-related issues.

Too much has changed since then, agree mother and daughter, for their commuting experiences to be truly comparable.

"I think it's definitely harder to be a commuter now than in our day," said Patti Milligan. "But Kerri made the decision to live at home, and she seems quite happy about her choice."


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