I spend a significant amount of time commuting from my house in southern Brooklyn to my school on Manhattan's Upper East Side -- about three hours a day, give or take. My school seems to be more of an exception than others, as I'm not the only one who commutes for 90 minutes each way, nor do I spend the most time commuting, but living in New York City's four outer boroughs almost guarantees a commute to school of some sort, especially if you go to school in Manhattan. New Yorkers face some of the longest commutes in the country, especially if you live in the more suburban parts that are farther away from subway lines into Manhattan. High school students like me are no exception to that rule.
So after spending almost four whole years now commuting, I have to ask myself: Was commuting worth it?
There are a number of reasons why commuting would not be worth it. I have to wake up at 5:40 every morning so that I can be out of the house on time to get to school and leave myself enough time in case there's some sort of delay on the bus or subway. I often get home after 6:30. (As a frame of reference, I get to school at around 7:40 every morning, school begins at 8, and my day ends at 4:45.) Staying late after school ends is often difficult for me, as if I stay an hour after school ends, I get home at 7:30; if I stay an hour and a half later, I get home after 8. I try to limit staying late to two days a week at most, and I usually leave as soon as I can so that I can get home as early as possible.
Additionally, since most my classmates and friends live close to school, I've missed out on countless social opportunities on the weekends. As an observant Jew, Sabbath (which precludes me from being able to use electricity) does not end until after sundown on Saturday evenings, which further limits when I can take the train into Manhattan on Saturday nights. Living so far away means that I often can't leave my house in time to get into Manhattan to meet my friends to go to a movie, and, when I can, I often have to cut my visits short because the bus I take to get from the subway to my house does not run later at night, leaving me without a way to get home. I usually end up sleeping at a friend's house -- not that this is a problem, but it also means that I have to leave early on Sunday mornings to get home, as opposed to sleeping in. Living so far away also means that it is often hard for my friends to come to my house.
The other downside to commuting is that I often have to give up my weekends to studying for tests and long-term school projects that I would otherwise be able to do on school nights. Getting home late means that I really only have time at night to do my homework for the next day, and that means that I spend most of my weekends studying or working on projects, and the few free weekends I have I use to catch up on the sleep I lost because I wake up so early and go to sleep so late.
Despite all that, there are a number of perks to commuting. Using mass transit in New York is free for middle and high school students, which means that my parents don't have to pay for a school bus (which is only free only through the sixth grade) to take me to and from school. Commuting using mass transit has also offered me more independence that using a van or a school bus. I could leave my house when I wanted to (although I usually leave on time), and I can also leave school when I want to: I'm not tied to a school bus's schedule. While I make the personal choice to leave as early as I can, many commuters in my school choose to stay later after school. This also means that if I want to sleep later one morning after a particularly late night, I can find my own way to school, and I don't have to worry about having missed the bus. If I end my classes early one day, I'm not stuck in school waiting for the school bus to leave. Commuting has let me set my own schedule.
Commuting -- especially on my way home from school -- gives me alone time every day to unwind, listen to music, and zone out after a long day. I can read books or try and do some homework, and I often do, which gives me a little more free time when I get home. Additionally, commuting has given me time to write, something that I often have to put aside when I get home in favor of homework. Most of the pieces I've published over the course of my high school career has been either in part written or edited on the train (this piece included). While using my laptop on the New York City subway might not be the best or safest idea, my commute is one of the only times I have to be able to write pieces. I've also used my morning commutes to cram for the tests I might have that day, read one of the free newspapers that are given out at subway stations. Commuting gives me more than an hour of uninterrupted time to do something, and I have the choices to do whatever I want during that time.
While commuting may be lonely at some parts, I do try to meet up with friends at various points during my commute, and some of us even try to take the same trains so that we'll be able to meet up and have some time to talk before school starts.
Commuting takes a lot of commitment. Not having to operate on a school bus' schedule means that I have to make sure I get up in time to make the it to the bus to the subway to school in time. In order to get to bed at a reasonable hour (which, for me, is usually between 11 and 12 at night -- another side effect of commuting), I often do have to do homework on the train, when I would otherwise I want to stare out the train window. Still, my commute is long enough that I can still find some time on my way home to zone out or to reflect on just about everything, from my views on religion to how much the person snoring next to me annoys me.
So this brings me back to my question: is commuting worth it? In terms of school, yes. The education I've received, the friends I've made, and the opportunities I've had my school all contribute to some of the best experiences I've had. While I do think that there have been chances that I've had to forgo because I live so far away from my school and most of my friends, I think having a set time alone to myself, has not just taught me that I have to really discipline myself if I want to get something done on my commute, but has also let me have some time to myself every day to just sit and think.
That having been said, I'll be glad to get to college next year, where I can live on campus and where my classes will be 10 minutes away.