Gone are the days of the dirty, dreaded and deserted Upper School Commons. As of the 2016-2017 school year, Upper School administration and Student Council officers have relegated the jaded space to the class of 2017 as a place to unify. With a new purpose, the space has been renamed the Senior Commons.
Head of Upper School Terry Murray describes the new change as a student-led initiative. During a junior form meeting last year regarding the discontinuation of the memory book, current Student Council president Joy Nesbitt suggested the idea of having a senior commons.
“I was just really eager to hear about their desire for a commons because it is something that I believe in and wanted to see happen,” Murray said. “I thought that it would be great [and] we would love to have it.”
Form Dean and Director of Health Rebekah Calhoun agrees with Murray, noting that this request for the 2016-2017 school year is not a new one.
“Having a senior commons is something that has come up for many years, in exit interviews and different things like that. Seniors have always been interested in having a common space. And we have been a bit limited over the last few years because of the construction,” Calhoun said.
History Department chair and Upper School history teacher Steve Kramer agrees with Calhoun, calling the lack of space in previous years as a “Hockaday shortcoming.”
“You guys can go in [the senior commons] and be yourselves. I think it is all for the good. I just miss having seniors in the hallway,” Kramer said.
From a student perspective, Nesbitt noted the Class of 2017’s eagerness to create a space to personalize and call their “home base.”
“The idea came from the desire to have something much like the parking spots and something that the seniors could call their own,” Nesbitt said.
The commons, which lies in the downstairs hall of the Upper School, used to house printers and be open to all students in the Upper School, regardless of form. As a new administrator, Murray saw the space as wasted.
“It was, in my perspective, one of those spaces that wasn’t being used well and as a new person here, you really recognize that kind of stuff,” Murray said. “It also is just a great space because it has got those four offices, a huge open space, and that patio.”
Now, the printer sits outside of the Senior Commons and underclassmen utilize the space under the stairs into the fine arts building to house their sports equipment, bags and other items that are too big to fit into their lockers.
The addition of the Senior Commons was not the only change for the new school year. Administration changed the hallway setup to accommodate the addition of the commons and to spotlight the senior class.
“[The old freshman hallway] is a really great showcase area. It is a main thoroughfare for us,” Murray said. “This is where college reps come through, it is where a lot of visitors come through so to have your seniors there in the commons and be able to look in and say ‘look what these girls are doing,’ they are sharing a space, they are hanging out in small groups, they are studying, they are sitting outside. It is just a great visual overall.”
Additionally, students are no longer allowed in the hallways during their free periods, which is a change from the years prior to construction. Instead, students are encouraged to take advantage of study spaces in the science building and new fine arts building.
But for some faculty, like Kramer, who has taught at Hockaday since 1980 and has had the seniors in his hall since about 2006, not having the senior presence in the hallways is a disadvantage.
“As a person who writes college recs, I could empathize with what was going on with their lives and so on in terms of them writing their essays and me writing the recs,” Kramer said.
Calhoun, whose office is now inside of the Senior Commons, has seen the space utilized in a multitude of ways so far, from a quiet space to work on college applications to a loud and creative space that houses impromptu dance parties and poster decorations.
“I think that it is going to continue to evolve and change. But I think some people will work here [and] some people will visit here. Some people will celebrate,” Calhoun said.
The Class of 2017 has given meaning and life to all parts of the once-misused commons. One of the offices houses Calhoun. Two of the offices serve as study rooms, and include white boards and tables. The other office is designated as the “self-help room,” where the seniors house miscellaneous objects.
Murray said that the commons was a relatively low-budget project. With that, the seniors have contributed in their own ways.
The main area of the commons contains a lounging area, complete with comfortable couches and fun decor. The large table serves as another study space for students. And in the outdoor patio, which the seniors can access through the main area, cushions line the benches and chairs. The seniors plan on setting up Eno hammocks when the weather gets cooler.
As the commons continues to evolve and develop, Kramer made an addition of his own: a Keurig machine.
“The machine belonged to one of my advisees last year,” Kramer said. “She left it here and never said anything about it. So I thought, it is sitting here doing nothing, why not let the seniors have it?”
While the senior class has big plans for the commons, it appears that Murray has bigger ideas.
“The attitude and idea of unity and coming together fits this group well,” Murray said. “I hope this space helps them do that.”
Mary Claire Wilson- Sports and Health Editor