Welcome to Commonwealth
A Letter from Bill Wharton, Headmaster
Some years back when I was interviewing a senior for a school recommendation letter for college, I asked him why he had chosen to attend Commonwealth over some better-known schools that had admitted him. “Because I sensed that Commonwealth cared about the kind of person I’d become,” he replied. His answer spoke to a fundamental commitment of Commonwealth’s mission, to help young people “to become knowledgeable, thoughtful, and creative adults, capable of careful analysis, fruitful cooperation, and deep commitment.”
This commitment is the aim of a liberal education. Liberal education is an idea that, in today’s high-stakes, high-pressure world often takes a back seat to education as training, as giving students the skills necessary for success and leadership.
Equipping students with those skills is important, and the trajectory of the lives of our alumni confirm that they leave Commonwealth prepared to flourish. Commonwealth alumni have overseen the development of predictive search at Google and run the New York City Department of Transportation. They have advised American presidents. Some teach physics, history, math, English, economics, philosophy, and classics at leading universities. Our alumni have founded theater and puppet troupes; they play in renowned chamber ensembles; they direct and act in feature films, they write and produce TV series; and they have set up and run nonprofits to provide medical care to young women in west Africa. They pilot commercial jetliners and Navy fighters. One has gone from chief counsel for the governor of Massachusetts to a career in opera and back to law, now serving as Assistant State Solicitor in the Attorney General’s office.
When our alumni come to visit, they all talk about the critical importance of the skills they developed at Commonwealth—those of reading closely, writing clearly, and thinking critically. They talk about the training.
But they also talk, as that senior did, about the way the school shaped their characters and lives. A liberal education, to trace the idea back to its origins, is an education for freedom (“liberal” and “liberate” come from the same root): It aims for the fullest development possible of one’s human faculties, which empowers one to live fully and freely. It is important to us that in all of our work our students develop the capacity for deeper and more meaningful engagement with all life’s experiences; the moral imagination necessary for thoughtful, ethical living; and the knowledge and commitment that informed and engaged citizenship requires. As our students learn to listen and respond attentively to classmates in English and science class, as they work together to cook a meal at our Hancock weekend or wash dishes after lunch here at school, and as they reflect with friends on the lessons of love presented with such rich humor in our winter play, Almost Maine, they are gaining the depth, imagination, and skills of collaboration and citizenship that will make possible knowledgeable, thoughtful, and creative lives. Commonwealth cares about the kind of person you’ll become.