Cadet finishing college classes in a tent, braving cold weather and farm animals

Cadet William Taylor said it's about overcoming life's challenges.

April 24, 2020, 5:08 AM

Cadet William Taylor is finishing his college semester in an orange tent. In the cold. In the middle of a field.

Like thousands of other American college students, Taylor's classes were moved off campus and into a virtual world as the novel coronavirus swept through the country, forcing social distancing measures and a new way of life.

The second-year student at the Virginia Military Institute packed his bags last month and headed for his family's home in Pennsylvania, where he would tune in to live classes streamed on Zoom. But without Wi-Fi in the house, Taylor realized he would have to rely on his phone's hotspot for internet access.

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The problem? He couldn't find strong enough cell service in the house.

PHOTO: Cadet William Taylor takes a selfie in his tent where he is finishing online classes at the Virginia Military Institute. The tent's location is where Taylor found the strongest cell signal for his phone's hotspot.
Cadet William Taylor takes a selfie in his tent where he is finishing online classes at the Virginia Military Institute. The tent's location is where Taylor found the strongest cell signal for his phone's hotspot.
Courtesy William Taylor

"I know the cell service works outside, and I was like, 'I have a tent in my car. So I guess I'll try putting that up.' So I went around and found the place that gets the most bars," Taylor told ABC News in a phone interview on Thursday.

That place was a field next to his family's house. So despite the chilly Pennsylvania weather and farm animals that would become his new neighbors, Taylor set up the tent and moved his laptop and textbooks into his new classroom.

It's where he's been spending about eight hours each day. Taylor even ran an extension cord to the tent to power a small heater for the coldest days.

PHOTO: Cadet William Taylor is finishing his Virginia Military Institute classes online after the coronavirus pandemic closed campus.
Cadet William Taylor is finishing his Virginia Military Institute classes online after the coronavirus pandemic closed campus.
Courtesy William Taylor

"Especially the first few weeks I got back, it got really cold. I think it even snowed," he said.

Another time, the tent flooded after a sudden rain. But those weren't the only challenges. At one point, Taylor said a "really loud" chicken tried to come into his tent in the middle of class.

"People always think it's hilarious. They're like, 'Are you in a tent?' And they think I'm out camping somewhere, having a fun time," Taylor said.

PHOTO: Cadet William Taylor, of the Virginia Military Institute, found the strongest cell signal for his phone's hotspot was in the middle of a field next to his family's home in Pennsylvania.
Cadet William Taylor, of the Virginia Military Institute, found the strongest cell signal for his phone's hotspot was in the middle of a field next to his family's home in Pennsylvania.
Courtesy William Taylor

But he isn't complaining about his new setup. One of 10 siblings -- four of whom are also doing schoolwork at home, Taylor said his tent is actually a nice way to get away from the "commotion" in the house.

It's also reminded him that life is about overcoming challenges.

"There's almost always a way to figure something out, and that's what (the Virginia Military Institute) pretty much taught me," he said. "Life will be hard. There's going to be challenges. There will be walls that you'll have to get over, but you don't turn around or you don't back down. You just find a way to get over that wall. Find a way to do it because life will get better eventually."

Taylor is expected to graduate with the Class of 2022 and wants to serve as an Army chaplain after seminary school.

Founded in 1839 in Lexington, Virginia, the Virginia Military Institute was the first state-supported military college in the United States. There are nearly 1,700 cadets participating in academics and military training at the school.

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