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Message from the Headmaster


In his memoir The Walled Garden, The Story of a School, Charles Merrill offered a statement of his aims in founding Commonwealth, one that draws on his experience in war and in Poland, on his activism for civil rights, and on his inclination to build a community reliant not on top-down authority, but rather on a sense of shared enterprise and common purpose.


“When I started Commonwealth in 1958, I set three general objectives. First, from what I had seen of postwar Vienna and Warsaw, was to give students an understanding of the culture of the past and a conviction that they should try to hand it down, with changes, to the future. Culture, like human life, is fragile, and a lot of people like to destroy things. Second, was to educate a cadre, democratically enriched through our scholarship funds, that would…take leadership functions in whatever section of society they happened to find themselves. Third, was to help raise decent, human beings, with some knowledge of themselves and the world around them, who could survive under pressure and lead happy and useful lives.”


Preferring “a stimulating and realistic setting for education,” Charles chose to open his school in the city. Though the scale was modest—housed in two brownstones, it would serve a small number of students—the effort was sustained by the belief that a small number of exceptionally taught young people could do good well beyond their numbers.


After thirty-three years at the school I continue to marvel at the way so much of his vision continues to inform and inspire our work: By some strange alchemy new faculty and new students make those commitments to culture, to opportunity, and to decency their own and they carry the work forward. Our ability to support the ongoing intellectual and artistic lives of our faculty keep alive their—and by extension students’—enthusiasm for the genuine pleasure of learning. Our ability to bring in and support substantial numbers of students whose families could not, without assistance, afford Commonwealth, ensures a more inclusive mix of voices and backgrounds.  And in countless ways—from collaboration in the classroom to the jobs program to mounting our Hancock weekends—students learn responsibility to a larger enterprise, they learn leadership, and they learn to listen to and work with people different from themselves.


The goal of The Power of a Vision is to renew and restore those commitments: to the building and to Commonwealth’s relationship to Boston, as we renovate the facility for the decades ahead; and to the students and teachers whose daily work together brings Charles’s vision to life.


We hope you will join us in securing Commonwealth’s future. It is a small school with a large vision.

Bill Wharton P '06


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