TCNJ Alum Kelly O’Donnell Recalls Life As a Commuter In The '80s

Kelly O’Donnell was a commuter at The College of New Jersey from 1982-1984. That’s 35 years ago. Needless to say, TCNJ has changed quite a bit since Kelly attended, including the name of the school! Trenton State became The College of New Jersey in 1996, but that’s not the only thing that’s changed according to Kelly.

Kelly was a music major but later switched to elementary education. She was also a commuter, which she says played a big part in her college experience. “I made no connections commuting.” she says. “I had no real friends in college because I was a commuter.” Nowadays, commuters can still get a great college experience even though they don’t live on campus, but that wasn’t always the case. “I definitely felt like I missed out.” she says.

She recalls that there weren’t too many clubs at TCNJ back then, or there weren’t many that she knew of. “There weren’t many clubs that I knew about, but they didn’t tell commuters much. I only knew of the sports clubs. There may have been more that I wasn’t told about because I commuted.” Kelly got very good grades in school because of the lack of things to do for commuters on campus, but she didn’t feel connected to the campus at all. 

In the 80’s, commuters weren’t allowed to eat in the dining hall. Because of this, Kelly remembers spending most of her time studying in the student center. “It was mostly fast foody-type food.” She explains that there were a lot less options and nutrition was not a concern at the school like it is now.

When asked why she chose to attend TCNJ, Kelly said, “I liked the campus the best out of the other schools I looked at. She loved the greenery, the lakes, the colonial style architecture, and felt comfortable in that environment.The buildings, especially the main one {Trenton Hall} were colonial style like my high school, which made me feel at home.” Kelly also mentioned that Trenton Hall reminded her of Independence Hall, which is notable because she is a major history buff and later worked in Philadelphia: first at the Philadelphia Zoo, and currently at the National Constitution Center. 

Kelly thinks that the biggest physical changes to the campus are all the new buildings. She describes the campus as “completely different” from when she was a student. “You could see all four lakes from the campus, but now you can only see one through all of the new buildings. The paths between buildings used to be all green and trees and grass, like nature trails, but now it’s totally different.” 

It’s obvious that TCNJ has improved immensely since Kelly was a student, especially when it comes to the commuter experience. Commuters have access to all of the dining options, clubs, activities, and more. In the '80s, being a commuter was an automatic disconnect from the college experience everyone hopes to have. Thankfully, times have changed, and now commuters and on-campus residents alike can have the college experience we all deserve!