Legal study travel felt like 'Groundhog Day'

Michelle Macdonald
Michelle Macdonald
After making more than 800 trips between her home in Hampden and Dunedin, commuting University of Otago law student Michelle Macdonald has spent more than enough time in her car.

Mrs Macdonald (39) will graduate in absentia from the university with an LLB today and hopes to be admitted to the Bar early next year after completing law professional studies.

She also aims to practise family law, having been inspired by a specialist in this field, Otago Law School dean Prof Mark Henaghan.

She earlier completed primary teaching qualifications at the then Dunedin College of Education in 1996, and a bachelor of education degree at Otago University, before teaching for several years.

She later became interested in studying law after some challenging experiences as a school trustee at Otepopo School, located near Hampden, and which was later closed.

Because her two young children Max (now 12) and Jake (8) were well settled at nearby schools, she and her husband Boyd did not want to disrupt them by moving to Dunedin.

And, back in 2009 she began the first of many almost 80km drives each way to and from university.

Initially, she did not mind the driving but was ''not a particularly good traveller'' and later found it tough. The hardest time was in the second year of her legal studies when she was driving up to five days a week. In total, earning her degree required about 125,000km of driving.

And, yes, she has seen the American cinema comedy Groundhog Day, and can see more than a little of her own experience in it.

The film is about a Pittsburgh weatherman who is trapped in a ''time loop'' and is forced to relive the same day - involving an out-of-town weather assignment - again and again.

''By the end of the four and a-half years I was absolutely tired of it [the travel],'' she said.

''I really saw it as a waste of time.''

And she recently sold-without any regrets- the Toyota Corolla car in which she did most of the travelling. Only seldom did she have any car trouble over the years.

The biggest complication was when she received a head injury in a horse-riding accident in July last year, the year she had hoped to complete her legal studies.

''Obviously, I just had to continue to soldier on.''

She continued to work hard at her studies, but took a little time out until she had fully recovered, completing her degree earlier this year.

And she is grateful for the strong support she received from Otago Law School staff, her mother Dian Nicolson, and her husband.

''It was a huge battle. I feel like I've won that battle.''

She feels a ''huge sense of achievement'', but says she will be avoiding longer car trips for quite a while.