What makes a Commonwealth student tick? From the classes that capture their attention to their favorite books, foods, and even paradoxes, their interests are hampered only by their imaginations—and, perhaps, the hours in a day.
Below, you'll meet Ben O'Donnell '23 of Melrose, Massachusetts, and learn more about his penchant for photography, his supremely ambitious career goals, and his advice for any student hoping to join the Commonwealth community...
Getting to Know You
What is bringing you joy right now?
I love playing games, and during the pandemic our family has been able to have more evening games and fun moments.
What do you do to recharge?
I take at least five to ten minutes for a quiet meditation in the morning before virtual classes. [Commonwealth is currently employing a hybrid model, wherein students alternate between in-person and virtual classes.] I also usually walk around outside during lunch, as I think it really helps to get off a screen and move around.
What is your favorite book (or a book you've re-read)?
I'm extremely hard pressed to choose a favorite book, but one of my favorites is Ender's Game and the subsequent series.
What do you think is the most intriguing paradox?
I think the social paradox of intolerance is my favorite paradox: the idea being that if a society tolerates everyone and allows all opinions to be expressed equally, they will allow intolerance in the form of intolerant individuals, yet if they do not tolerate specific points of view, they inherently are intolerant to a certain degree.
What are your favorite comfort foods?
Especially in the winter, I love soup, particularly served warm with some kind of soft bread.
What was/is your favorite class at Commonwealth or elsewhere?
My favorite class is Photography with Ms. Nieto. I love the feeling of capturing a beautiful image, but what really makes me love this class is my teacher's way of always giving a mix of feedback that always begins with what went right and helps you see what to change without critiquing you as an artist or person.
Pen or pencil?
I hate answering two-option questions with a third, but my favorite is mechanical pencils.
Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)
Why did you choose Commonwealth?
My family chose Commonwealth because we were looking for a more rigorous academic environment for me. We also chose Commonwealth because we loved the tight sense of community and collaboration that the school fosters between students and their peers as well as teachers and staff.
What has the hybrid learning experience been like?
For me, hybrid learning has been very smooth. The concurrent system we use has allowed virtual classes to be more similar to normalcy than I expected, and I have a lot more time to do other things on my weeks at home because of the elimination of my commute. I think the downsides I've experienced are some technical problems, particularly with connection speed both at home and occasionally in school before the WiFi capabilities were upgraded.
It's also obviously been much harder to be social. A lot of students now have improved ways of interacting socially online within groups of friends, but what's impossible to replace are the chance interactions of being in the room together.
What has your extracurricular experience been like thus far?
I've really enjoyed going to school at Commonwealth for a number of reasons: most importantly to me, classes are interesting and engaging, and every one of my teachers so far has been knowledgeable and fun to listen to.
I also think that Commonwealth attracts a great mix of students that I've made a lot of strong connections with. In that area, it was much easier for me than I expected to feel comfortable going up and talking to new people, since everyone is getting to know each other the same way you are.
How has Commonwealth colored the way you learn and look at the world?
Commonwealth has definitely pushed me to be curious and analytical in how I look at information. In particular I find myself analyzing what might be behind a given text or speech more than before, thinking about the argument and the background.
What do you envision for your future?
I'm still not exactly sure what I want in my future. I think that a career in law, or in a STEM/research field are definitely possibilities. If you asked me what my dream job is, I would definitely say a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
What's your advice for prospective students considering Commonwealth?
I would advise students considering Commonwealth to definitely visit the school and see what our community is like. While in-person visits obviously aren't possible during the pandemic, I would still highly encourage it of students looking for a school with difficult yet rewarding classes.
I think Commonwealth's strengths are its teachers, its inclusive community, and its focus on writing and communication in addition to a diverse and well rounded education. I would highly recommend Commonwealth to any student looking for this kind of environment. While there are numerous highly competitive athletes and fitness oriented programs, if you're a student who wants to be competitive in a team sport such as soccer, Commonwealth might not be the best choice. On the other hand, the school is very supportive of athletes committed to their sports, including the ones they pursue outside of school. I know a lot of seriously competitive athletes even at the national level in sports such as fencing, and interestingly an inordinate number of impressively skilled figure skaters.