Penn State World Campus Student Earns Degree While Playing Big Bird, Telly in Sesame Street Live

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World Campus student earns degree after performing in Sesame Street Live by day, studying at night

Sesame Street Live characters in performance

Penn State World Campus student Gregory Hines-Garrison performs as Big Bird

Without World Campus, I would still be 'taking a semester off.'

When he’s not tucked into a quiet corner of a hotel, studying for his college degree, Gregory Hines-Garrison can likely be found on stage, inside the towering costume of a toddler’s favorite feathered friend: Big Bird.

Hines-Garrison has been on the road with Sesame Street Live since August 2012. A few months after joining the national tour, he began studying for an advertising and public relations degree through Penn State World Campus.

The 23-year-old Philadelphia native currently plays both Big Bird and the fuchsia monster Telly in Sesame Street Live’s “Make a New Friend” show. He completes his coursework between performances — sometimes as many as three a day. The tour often visits two or three different cities in the same week.

Hines-Garrison will graduate from Penn State on May 8. After his Sesame Street Live contract ends in June, he plans to take a break from touring to spend more time with his 2-year-old daughter, Lyric, and to look for work in advertising.

“Ultimately, I’d like to return to children’s entertainment in some way, maybe in marketing,” Hines-Garrison said.

His dream job: vice president of marketing at Sesame Place.

Despite his busy schedule Hines-Garrison, who was a student at Temple University until he was cast in the touring company, has taken a full load of classes most semesters since he enrolled at Penn State.

If it were not for World Campus, Hines-Garrison said he might never have gone back to school and completed his degree. “Without World Campus, I would still be ‘taking a semester off.’”

Hines-Garrison said World Campus has taught him how to be self-motivated and work hard. He finds it hard to focus on travel days, surrounded by fellow cast members, or in his shared hotel room. “I like to find a secluded space somewhere to do my work,” he said. If a hotel doesn’t have a business center, Hines-Garrison finds a nook in the lobby, or just sets up wherever he can. “I’ve done my homework in a stairwell before.”

He tries to do most of his schoolwork on days off, “which are pretty infrequent -- usually one 24-hour period per week,” he said. On Sundays there is just one show, and Hines-Garrison uses the extra time to study.

Hines-Garrison also manages to see his daughter at least twice a month, either at their home in Philadelphia or on the road. “Schoolwork is difficult with Lyric around,” he laughed. “With her around, I did my homework overnight, like at 4 a.m.”

But, he added, Lyric is his motivation to keep up his hectic work and school schedule. “I work very hard so that she can be secure financially, now as well as in the future,” he said. “By far, she’s my No. 1 priority.”

Between tours last year, he was an intern at the advertising firm Young & Rubicam, which Hines-Garrison said was an amazing experience. “Until that internship I never really understood how much weight the name Penn State carries,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of that.”

Hines-Garrison will be performing in Columbus, Ohio on graduation weekend and unable to attend his graduation ceremony in person. But “I’ll be there in spirit,” he said. “A very loud and obnoxious spirit!”

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