In this uncertain time, we want to help our community stay connected and inspired. Below are updates and recommendations from alumni/ae, faculty, staff, parents, and friends. We hope these notes and ideas can make this difficult situation just a little bit easier. If you would like to submit an update and/or share suggestions for the community, please fill out this form.
James Barron ’62: "After more than 10 years of research and writing, my book, “The Greek Connection: The Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and the Untold Story of Watergate,” was released at the end of July. The biography is a non-fiction political thriller about abuse of power, dark money, foreign interference in elections, and intimidation of journalists. And it’s not even about Donald Trump, though there are certainly lessons for today. It’s also a saga about an audacious Greek freedom fighter, relentless democracy champion, and a hero for our time. The book is receiving great praise from such respected authors as Doris Kearns Goodwin and Sy Hersh. For more information, visit thegreekconnectionbook.com."
Tim Dickinson ’64: "Retirement in the time of COVID-19: I am certainly not Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and I think cholera is far more dire than COVID-19, but how could I not steal that title? I retired six years ago, and to my wife’s chagrin it hardly shows. She retired this past December, so that when the pandemic began the countermeasures hardly affected us. Workplace closures? No impact. Quarantine and social distancing? We postponed some meals that we planned to share with friends. Toronto never banned solitary outdoor activities like walking, so we continued to take our walks. We can garden. We acquired masks, and wear them when we shop or interact with others. We count ourselves lucky because the impact on our lives has been so small, notably also because nobody that we know has gotten sick.
That said, it was a shock in April and May to see how many things shut down, and how constrained essential services like grocery shopping and public transport became, especially at first. Sometime in May I saw a newspaper article describing how a group at one of the research hospitals organized a service to do grocery shopping and delivery for people in public housing, mostly seniors, who could not for whatever reason get out to do this for themselves. At first my wife, Meher Shaik, volunteered seeing as how she is younger and seemed to fit this outfit’s criteria better. The idea was, she would be the volunteer of record, and I would drive her around. Then they had another intake of volunteers, and I put my name in to see if they would take me on officially as well. They did, and so since May we have been driving around our part of the city a couple of days a week, picking up groceries for two, sometimes three, people a day, and dropping them off at the apartment buildings where these people live.
Overall, it’s been fun in no small part because we do it together and so have each other to talk to, to help each other find things in the stores that we’ve never bought before, to navigate our way to addresses we’ve never been to, and to share the interactions with the different people who we’re helping out. Sometimes we simply drop the groceries off in a building lobby, or we meet the senior there and load up their bundle buggy for them. Other times, one or both of us wind up taking the groceries to the senior’s door. My wife is the organized one, so when we’re doing a cash pick-up and delivery, she’s equipped with a float so that we can make change when the senior reimburses the cost of the groceries. Other times, it’s the organizers who reimburse us, as they have arranged to get the money back from whoever is paying. All in all, it’s two to three hours at a time, once or twice a week, and so no great impact on us. Depending on which supermarket we visit, we often can do our own grocery shopping as well.
Doing this shopping for others and making these deliveries has been interesting because working together is something that we’ve only done in the context of home and family. It’s a new arena for bickering about directions and getting up tight about the tiny amount of administrative stuff that this volunteering entails (documenting our purchases, putting in for reimbursement). My wife, the big sister in her family of seven siblings, points out that the appeal of this work for me is that, having grown up as an only child, it’s a novelty to feel needed, even if by strangers, for something that I do so easily. Perhaps. For both of us, it’s just a way to give back a little bit to a city that’s given us quite a few opportunities."
Richard Hall ’64: "Last November, Kathleen (my wife), Meg Kistin Anzalone '64, and I traveled to Italy for two weeks dividing our time between Tuscany (Siena) and Venice. We left Venice to catch a flight home from Paris around 8:30am in mid-November during a driving rainstorm. We got out on one of the last vaporetti (water buses), before the surging flood waters, a couple of hours later, shut down Venice and the public transportation system entirely, for the next six days. The three of us had no idea what we narrowly escaped until we got back to Boston twenty-two hours later. We watched in astonishment news footage of the very streets and squares under water which we had wandered through only days before."
Steven Bloomstein ’66: "During this COVID-19 time, in my role as president of the Turimiquire Foundation (turimiquire.org), I have been catching up on the evitable administrative backlog and working with colleagues to both improve our administrative capacity and prepare for the increased need for our services when we re-open. We must all prepare for a more complicated and demanding world, and this may well be even more so in lesser developed countries like Venezuela where we work."
Roy DeBerry ’66: "I co-wrote a book, Voices from the Hill Country, that will be published in July 2020. You can learn more about it at hillcountryproject.org. Additionally, my daughter, Aisha, and I started a podcast -- Dad and Daughter Dialogues -- together in April. Aisha donated a kidney to my nephew, Jarvis, just before the pandemic. This was fortuitous because elective surgeries were recently shut down in New Orleans (where Jarvis lives). I am glad to report that both Aisha and Jarvis are doing extremely well. They are healing, and like the rest of us, trying to stay safe, healthy and sane."
In February 2020, G. A. Finch ’73 received the Chicago Bar Association's Earl B. Dickerson Award. The award recognizes minority lawyers and judges whose careers at the bar emulate the courage and dedication of the late Earl B. Dickerson in ensuring that the law is the key to justice for all in our society. A former Commonwealth School trustee, G. A. is the past co-managing partner of the law firm of Querrey & Harrow, making him the first African American lawyer to be a managing partner at a majority law firm in Chicago.
Steve Liss ’73 spent the past three years directing and producing a four-part documentary series about Northshore Recovery High School (NSRHS). Students at NSRHS have been diagnosed with substance abuse disorders and the school provides both academic and emotional support as the students work towards earning their high school diploma. The docuseries was acquired by CBS/Viacom and will premiere on MTV on Tuesday, September 1 at 9pm EDT. Click here for more information and to watch the trailer.
George Levy ’74 was recently made president of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona, FL. He writes: “Though I sometimes feel like the only such enthusiast in Commonwealth’s history, I invite my fellow alums and their friends to tour the Hall of Fame when things return to normal and learn about the special men and women who risked it all without shame or apology. In the meantime you can learn more about us at mshf.com.”
Janna O'Loughlin ’79 is a Real Estate Agent at MV Seacoast Properties in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. She writes: “After raising three wonderful young men, I decided to gather my experiences as a banker, sociologist, traveler, photographer, and parent into a profession that utilizes all my skills. I get to be a matchmaker for families and businesses looking for the right connection to a property. I have fond memories of Commonwealth School, especially Mr. Merrill. He was a very special person and had faith in each student he met which increased their self esteem and success.”
Philippe Simon ’79 is the Production Coordinator for Greenfield Community Access TV in Greenfield, MA. In his role, he works with the Greenfield and Franklin County community to document social currents and activities--creating a better understanding between community members of varying beliefs and backgrounds. Phillipe writes: "As a member of the media I am put in the position to be a human rights witness. Since we work among city officials, council members, and the general public we are visible, and through that visibility lies our greatest security. We share that security with community organizers and activists through documentation and the accountability of following up." Phillippe encourages Commonwealth students to get involved with outreach through community access media. He writes: "Let those involved in social movements look to you as one of the many people who will help tell the story and keep them from becoming isolated."
Jeremy Berlin ’80: “Recently, I realized that I've lived over half my life on Martha's Vineyard. My son, Silas (22), is studying piano in Seattle, but he’s home for now. We have a full house with my daughter, Elda (6), and my partner, Betsey Guest. Silas plays many hours a day, and we have lovely sounds to weather these times: Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff. I’ve been playing piano in the same band — Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish — for 27 years. I have also had a jazz duo residency for 17 years at Offshore Ale Company in Oak Bluffs. We're easy to find if you come to the Vineyard.”
Jane Cutter ’81: "My husband and I are both working from home. As a Special Education Coordinator, I helped quickly transition 14 teachers serving students with disabilities in private schools to remote work. I worked at the office for a week as an "essential worker" supporting distance learning and then transitioned to my home. My daughter is a cook and she lost her job when the restaurants closed. She spent almost 4 weeks navigating the unemployment system to get her benefits due to system overload. Some people are bored in quarantine; I am busier than ever. I recently donated blood at a "pop-up" donation center at Safeco Field (home of the Seattle Mariners) and was the first in line. My theme was "I am a red-blooded Red.""
Jamie Kravitz ’84: "My partner Jeff and I have been finding new ways to pass time during this long shelter-in-place. We started with an unlimited game of Rummy 500 but by the time we got to 30,000 points we looked for some other games and have found several good ones - Hive being our favorite. I've been fortunate to be able to continue my User Experience job uninterrupted other than finding the best setup to work from home. I had been teaching Pilates group classes and private training for the past few years and that's pretty much all on hold right now as gyms and fitness studios are all still closed in San Francisco. I recently started virtual/Zoom training with a private client and that's going well, but I'm looking forward to when we can safely get back into the studio. Before all the wildfires started we did manage to get away for a weekend in the country, including one of our favorite Bay Area locations in Bodega Bay (see photo)."
Dominic Montagu ’84: “We are in week four of our lockdown in San Francisco, and some weeks beyond that since UCSF (where I work in international research) put the kibosh on all travel for work before the lockdown. Things get more surreal by the day, but at the same time days blend into one another pretty seamlessly, so perhaps the gradations are less vivid than I imagine them to be in retrospect. Both of our kids were away at college but they are now home and brought their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. So, there are six of us alternating between sitcom-style movie nights, board games, and cooking sprees. We are also retreating to our own corners of the one room with wifi to each do homework/take classes/prepare classes/write/work and surreptitiously watch TikTok (my daughter), play video games (my son), or read the New York Times (me) when we hope others won’t notice that we’re slacking off. We are lucky to be together during this emotionally stressful time. The frenetic energy of too many people is fun and we are grateful. For the most part we don’t do much except retreat ("they also contribute who stay out of the damn way” as a mentor at UCSF would say) and help the people around us when we can. We worry for family and friends, and hope the end result of this might include more empathy rather than less.”
Francesca Bignami ’87 published the edited volume, EU Law in Populist Times (Cambridge University Press, 2020), which covers fiscal solidarity, migration law, and combating democratic backsliding. George Washington University Law School hosted a book launch and panel discussion in February 2020.
Tiffany Higgins ’87: “I've transitioned from writing environmental poetry to writing narrative journalism on Brazil & the environment. I am writing from Salt Lake City, where I am pleased to be the 2020-2021 Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. This is giving me time to write a book about how hydroelectric dams in Brazil's Amazon basin impact indigenous and traditional peoples and animals, as well as peoples' continuing resistance to dams. COVID-19 has, in a sense, stranded me here in Salt Lake as I don’t have a car so travel back to California is likely not a good idea from the public health standpoint. I am chagrined to reside for now in one of only eight states where no statewide stay at home orders are in place, so people are still going to work here. I was delighted to have received a Fulbright scholarship to continue my research in Brazil’s Amazon later in 2020, but due to COVID-19, all programs have been paused. I hope Fulbright will give all grantees the ability to do their research in 2021."
Margaret Urban ’87: "Several of my co-workers and friends have become my students in sourdough bread-making, as the lockdown creates a resurgence in (read: desperate need for) home baking. I'm hoping that after this is all over, the 'from scratch' cooking will continue, and there will be a fresh interest in the provenance of ingredients. Meanwhile, I'm grateful to be employed and be able to work from home, but still finding it a challenge to adjust to the new isolation."
Stephen Frug ’89 published his first graphic novel, HAPPENSTANCE. You can read more about it and purchase it at www.stephenfrug.com. Stephen writes: “I hope any Commonwealthers who pass through Ithaca, NY look me up!”
Catherine (Steward) Parrinello ’90: "I was cleaning out old boxes of books during quarantine and found The Walled Garden. It was wonderful to re-read and remember my time at Commonwealth and see how, 30 years later, what I learned there has shaped my personal and professional lives since."
Zoe Kafatou Bunnell ’90: "I trained as an EMT last spring and now serve on an ambulance with my local volunteer rescue squad. I also run blood deliveries for the Red Cross, and have joined their Disaster Mental Health response team. Meanwhile I'm refreshing my Social Work license with training related to crisis and trauma counseling. I originally started all this so that, when my kids have left home in a few years, I will be prepared to volunteer in disaster relief wherever I will be useful. The Covid-19 crisis we all find ourselves in right now has refocused my attention on immediate needs within my own community. I am grateful to be using my skills to help, here and now."
Hamish Linklater ’94: "My mom, Kristin Linklater, passed away June 5th, 2020, at her home in Orkney, Scotland. She had established a Voice Centre there and we are trying to keep it going through this global caesura. For those of you who knew her or might be curious about her work please visit her appeal site or www.linklatervoice.com."
Wesley Morgan's (’06) book, The Hardest Place, will be published in October 2020 and is available for pre-order. Wesley is a military affairs reporter, who most recently worked at Politico covering the Pentagon. In The Hardest Place, he writes about the history of the American war in Afghanistan.
Conor Detwiler ’07 wrote a book about spiritual awakening — Undividing: Returning to Oneness for the First Time — that will be published in August 2020. It was edited by Caitlin Timmons '08. For more information, visit conordetwiler.com.
Kate Potter ’09 finished her museum studies master's degree in December 2019. She loved writing her capstone paper, “We've Always Been Here: Interpreting Queer History at Historic House Museums.” In May 2020 she started working for the National Park Service at the Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site. She is very happy to be discussing poetry and literature again after five years of giving tours about history and architecture.
Alina Grabowski ’12: “In May 2019 I moved to Austin after completing a fellowship at Vanderbilt, where I earned my MFA in fiction. My short story, "A Girl Walks Into a Bar," was published in Story magazine's Spring 2020 issue, and I continue to carve away at my novel-in-progress.”
Maria Ronchi ’15 graduated from Brown in spring 2019. She writes: “I loved materials science so much that I am now doing research at MIT while pursuing a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering. I also recently got engaged to Ken, a wonderful biologist I met at Brown. We are planning to get married next year.”
In July 2020, Mosammat Faria Afreen '16 was awarded the Marion B. Sewer Distinguished Scholarship for Undergraduates from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). Awarded to students who demonstrate an interest in biochemistry or molecular biology and enhance the diversity of science, the scholarship provides financial support towards undergraduate tuition costs for one academic year.
Former faculty member Polly Chatfield P’71, ’79: “My daughter, Barbara Post '71, is living with me and she deals with our two dogs - lots of walks - and continues with what she can do for the Community Charter School of Cambridge’s library (cover books, deal with the database etc.). I cook our meals, keep at the exercises to strengthen my left side, write and text and email so many far-flung friends who need just a word, and walk whenever there is some sun to my favorite bench in Kennedy Park to pray for all the people I can think of and their friends and family. It’s a very quiet life.”
Headmaster Bill Wharton: "When I go out walking these days, the relative absence of mechanical sounds makes more noticeable the sounds and sensations of this unusual spring—birds, freshening air of spring, trees greening, little kids out playing with siblings or neighbors, families and couples walking. This brings vividly to mind my own childhood in the 1960s, and its feel of closeness to the natural and human worlds as I spent hours outdoors playing with friends, interacting with their parents, and exploring the shrubs, soil, and swamp of my middle-class Chicago suburb."
"The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel" - Headmaster Bill Wharton
"I'm reading The Dutch House (Ann Patchett), and I recently re-read A Separate Peace (John Knowles)." - Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Carrie Healy
"Madeline Miller's Circe, read by Perdita Weeks (Audible) is fully amazing." - Margaret Urban '87
"Rereading Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy for like the 20th time." - Jamie Kravitz '84
"I have Fleetwood Mac going almost every day." - Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Carrie Healy
"Jazz and Blues" - Roy DeBerry '66
"Cecile McLorin Salvant has an astounding voice and several of her recordings are with an equally astonishing pianist. We saw her live at SF Jazz and became fans right away. Also Catherine Russell for absolute joyous jazzy singing." - Jamie Kravitz '84
"The Office, Westworld (season 1), Unorthodox" - Headmaster Bill Wharton
"I just started Little Fires Everywhere. I've also been revisiting episodes of The Office...maybe because I'm not in an office right now I'm finding it funnier than ever." - Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Carrie Healy
"Unorthodox, Mom, Gentefied" - Jane Cutter '81
"Nature Shows" - Roy DeBerry '66
"Rupaul's Drag Race, Drag Race All Stars, Canada's Drag Race, Drag Race Vegas Revue... and Pose!" - Jamie Kravitz '84
The Whisperer - Headmaster Bill Wharton
"Bombshell, The Farewell" - Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Carrie Healy
"Most recent documentary: Skid Row Marathon. Note: Not about running, but about people who happen to run. Beautiful and inspiring." - Margaret Urban '87
The Blue Dahlia - Jane Cutter '81
"Walking the dog" - Headmaster Bill Wharton
"Morning walks, late afternoon runs, yoga, cooking" - Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Carrie Healy
"Running, hula hooping" - Jane Cutter '81
"Spending quality and quiet times in the wood near my 1919 old house--ideal place to think, meditate, relax, dream, pray and watch the birds, other wild animals and insects." - Roy DeBerry '66