Monday Profile: Life without U

Editor’s note: About 50,000 students, staff, faculty members and visitors converge on the University’s Twin Cities campus every day. In the midst of this sea of people, it’s easy to think of the strangers passing by as just anonymous faces.
Every Monday during spring quarter the Daily will peek inside the lives of some of the strangers you see every day. Randomly chosen from the University phone book, those profiled could sit in your class, ride your bus or pass you on the sidewalk someday, and now they won’t be strangers.
Melanie Evans

Amy McGarrigle will never graduate from the University.
Her final contact with the University: a request for a transcript so she could transfer to Hamline University in St. Paul.
It was a natural move for the 24-year-old. A calm and deliberate woman, the nine months at the University jarred her senses. Sprinting between classes rushed her otherwise even gait. Tangled bureaucracy taxed her friendly and pragmatic disposition. Out-of-reach educators compromised the reason she bothered to shuttle between her full-time job and the University’s Twin Cities campus — her education.
In 1996, McGarrigle arrived on campus determined to finish the degree she began four years earlier, fully aware of the University’s cold reputation and urban sprawl.
And so after three quarters of first-hand experience confirmed that reputation, McGarrigle quickly and quietly left.

Like mother, like daughter
Raised an only child by a single parent, McGarrigle’s parents divorced when she was 3 years old.
Mother and daughter lived together in St. Louis Park., Minn., for 21 years. The women attest that their lives are concrete evidence of the value of a college degree.
A public relations officer, Maureen McGarrigle said her degrees in history and journalism gave her the leverage she needed in the job market.
It was Maureen who impressed the importance of a college degree on her daughter.
Getting an education and holding down a job were McGarrigle house rules. Her mother said an able-bodied girl works at 16. So McGarrigle got a job cleaning hotel rooms; it was the first of eight jobs in as many years. Stints as a pizza delivery driver, gas station clerk and bank teller followed.
Maureen pushed her daughter to work, make her own calls and pay her own bills. She hoped to teach McGarrigle lessons she had discovered the hard way.
“Things I didn’t learn until well past college I tried to instill in Amy early on,” Maureen said.
She was successful. Amy’s confidence echoes of her mother’s resolve.
But the two women do not share the same demeanor.
McGarrigle admires her mother’s drive and independence, but does not feel the same fire pushing her forward.
McGarrigle’s more cautious pace often confused Maureen.
Maureen said she once worried her daughter would lose direction, but she is now confident about her daughter’s commitment to completing an education.
“Amy has always had to work things out for herself,” she said.
McGarrigle’s willful and selective resolve did not always sit so well with her mother.
Arguments — loud arguments — stemmed from the pair’s opposing styles. Especially when it came to issues both hold dear: independence and education.
Both women can be stubborn. Both hold firm to their convictions.
But they share the same fundamental values. Friction arises when the two disagree over the best means of arriving at the same conclusion.
“It’s more of a style thing. We have the same moral values; it’s the superficial things we disagree on,” McGarrigle added.
The pair also share a night-owl routine.
“I am the only one who calls her after 10:30 p.m.,” Amy said.
And the same phone voice. Callers to the McGarrigle’s former Utah Avenue residence in St. Louis Park often confused the two voices.
Now the two rarely get a chance to talk on the phone. On March 22, McGarrigle put her mother on a plane to Europe where she would start a new job.
The two now e-mail furiously, said Maureen. She expects that frequent trips for business and holidays will keep her in contact with her daughter.

A conscientious student
Bright, clean and cramped, McGarrigle’s tiny apartment houses the furniture that did not cross the Atlantic Ocean with her mother.
Two VCRs sit stacked on top of the television. McGarrigle’s black and white photos line the tiny studio. Cutouts from magazines hang on kitchen cupboards and in the bathroom.
A stack of dog-eared philosophy books sit on the counter of her small studio apartment. Broken spines, notes in the margins and an occasional bent corner reveal her study habits. She is a thorough student. McGarrigle reads her textbooks.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. Her eyebrows arch, and her brow slightly wrinkles. With a slight shrug of her shoulders she states the obvious: She studies because that is why she’s in college, right?
Her philosophy major is interesting, yet dense. But when she is intrigued by a subject, she can plow through, she says.
Time can be scarce.
McGarrigle’s mornings are a solace. A few hours before class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday provide a break for days shuttling between work in downtown Minneapolis, volunteering and school. It can wear at the 24-year-old.
Short on time, she will plow through the night and load up on caffeine to finish an assignment.
“I drink my body weight in caffeine daily,” she said.
An admitted addict, McGarrigle sipped cold coffee from her mother’s mug as young as 7. She began the habit in earnest at 14, the same year she began smoking.
Working toward a goal on her own — and in her own time — is how her daughter operates, her mother said.
“What she is interested in, she pursues very diligently,” she said. Excelling in areas like English, history and sociology, McGarrigle avoided the school subjects she did not enjoy.
High school report cards carried a range of marks. Comments from teachers explained the erratic grades. Remarks like “good student,” or “attentive listener” followed “attendance affects grades.”
Despite spotty attendance, McGarrigle’s determination left its mark.
“I don’t have to get out the yearbook to remember Amy,” said Wayne Bengtson, a retired St. Louis Park High School guidance counselor.
Exasperated by teachers, McGarrigle visited Bengtson as a freshman in the fall of 1988. Arriving at Bengtson’s door, she wanted to know exactly how she could transfer out of a class.
Fiercely independent, McGarrigle was very concerned about her education and willing to ask questions, Bengtson said.
“Amy was not bashful. She had concerns about some of her teachers and she was vocal about it,” he said.
The two conspired, Bengtson advising Amy to keep her boredom constructive. Studying for other classes, especially during math, became a common practice.
The enlightening ruse was nothing new for McGarrigle. A fourth-grade yellow slip is her first recollection of a disciplinary run-in. Her crime: A teacher caught McGarrigle reading a book during math class.

A face in the crowd
McGarrigle met her University adviser once at orientation. Now, sitting in a coffee shop on Franklin Avenue almost a year later, she can picture his face, sweet-natured but superfluous. McGarrigle said she navigated through three quarters of registration without aid from the anonymous assistant.
It was not an issue of whether she could master the University’s bureaucracy. For McGarrigle, the question was whether she wanted to ride it out.
A few of the classes she took at the University stand out in her memory as exceptional. She remembers Introduction to West African History every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in a cavernous second-floor lecture room in Blegen Hall. And the spring introduction to rhetorical theory course sparked her current major in philosophy.
But they weren’t enough to keep McGarrigle tethered to the Twin Cities campus. Unwilling to drift among the waves of students for three years, the University taught the student what she did not want in a college.
“The lack of personal anything” sapped any desire McGarrigle had to stick with the University, she said.
Years of experience juggling work and school taught McGarrigle to find her own answers and fight for her education.
As a veteran undergraduate, she had worked her way through one school and an associate’s degree before arriving at the University.
McGarrigle turned down an acceptance letter from Hamline after high school graduation in 1992. She chose to enter Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn., instead.
For two and a half years, she passed between Normandale’s eight buildings with 8,000 other full- and part-time students. McGarrigle attended the college for the education only: Friends, work and life existed at the opposite end of Highway 100.
Cash would be tight every three months after the quarterly payment swallowed McGarrigle’s savings, but she left Normandale with a B average, an associate’s degree and no debt. Three years of the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at the Holiday Stationstore on Interlachen Boulevard in Edina, Minn., and living at home helped cover the $600-per-quarter tuition.
In 1994, she took a year off, saving money, living off Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis with long-time friend Kerri Larkin.
Returning to school in 1996 to complete a bachelor’s degree was a given for McGarrigle. It was her choice of the University that surprised McGarrigle’s mother and friends.
Bored and restless after 12 months away from school, enrolling in classes at the University was a jump-start to get her motivated, she said. Along with Larkin, McGarrigle registered at the University. Reminded of the University’s enormous size by friends and family, McGarrigle describes her choice as “the path of least resistance.”
She regrets the extra time her detour at the University added to her degree. For a period, the experience soured her enthusiasm for education; it was the place, not learning, that turned her off.
Size matters
Hamline University is more McGarrigle’s size. 1,650 students attend the compact campus off Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.
McGarrigle is bothered by Hamline’s higher tuition and by the loan she needed to make the switch, but the price tag is worth the smaller size.
Stick-legged undergraduates slouch in too-big shirts. Baggy pants hang from their waists. They are young, or rather, younger than McGarrigle. She feels older, she confesses while siting outside of her 11 a.m. philosophy class.
Students glide past her into the small carpeted room in the Giddons Alumni Learning Center. She joins them, selecting one of the green and chrome chairs assembled in a circle for the class.
She folds herself into a chair cross-legged, sets her Mountain Dew on the floor and cracks open Immanuel Kant’s “Prolegomana.”
It is dense material. Less than 10 pages of reading absorb the hour. The assignment is tedious and long, and McGarrigle finished all of it. She follows along in class, alternating between underlining in an open book and copiously scrawling in a notebook.
Professor Stephen Kellert prods the class to keep up.
“Are you with me?” he asks, demanding a show of hands. Signal a thumbs up for yes; a thumbs down if not, he says.
Without lifting her head, McGarrigle flashes a quick thumbs up along with a handful of students in the class.
About 30 students exit the room at the end of the hour. Nineteen students is the average class size at Hamline. There is one full professor for every 13 students; no graduate students teach at Hamline.
McGarrigle recalls dashing across the Washington Avenue Bridge her last quarter at the University. McGarrigle moves toward her next class, in a room 12 feet away.
Her marathon education, a string of 3.0 grade point averages trailing her from one college to the next, is far from over. She estimates it will be 2000 before she will hold a degree.
But if she wasn’t going to finish, she would not have started. When she wraps up at Hamline, it will be because she completed the requirements for her degree, not because she quit.
“I plan on graduating if it kills me,” McGarrigle said.