Commonwealth School

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Commonwealth School
Boston, Massachusetts
Type Private
Established 1957
Founder Charles E. Merrill Jr.
Headmaster William D. Wharton
Grades 912
Gender Coeducational
Enrollment 150
Athletics conference


  • Massachusetts Bay Independent League (boys)
  • Girls Independent League
Accreditation New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Commonwealth School is an independent high school of about 150 students and 35 faculty members located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts United States. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.


Commonwealth School

Charles E. Merrill Jr., son of the founder of Merrill Lynch, founded the school in 1957, locating it in Boston's Back Bay to "restore good secondary schooling to the city." He encouraged Commonwealth students to be "decent, socially responsible, generous people," actively engaged in public affairs. Merrill returns to the school once a year to give a speech on a topic of his choice, and his books are on display in the school library alongside those of Commonwealth alumni.

Merrill insisted that the school have only one rule: "No rollerskating in the halls," — an exhortation that students should not "...act like a damn fool, but think about your actions and how they affect others."

Merrill retired in 1981, and his memoir of the first 23 years of the school's history and his experience as headmaster, The Walled Garden, was published the following year.


The school's symbol is a mermaid with a sword and shield, derived from the coat of arms of Warsaw, Poland. This symbol appears on the school flag, publications, and the outside of the building. Because the school has no official sports mascot the mermaid is sometimes used, and the school's sports teams are sometimes referred to (partly in jest) as the "fighting mermaids."

There is no official school song, but "The Spacious Firmament On High" (Joseph Addison, Joseph Haydn) is sung each year at the opening of school and at the graduation ceremony.


The headmaster since 2000, William D. Wharton joined the faculty in 1985 as a teacher of history, Latin, and Greek.

There have been five headmasters:

  • 1957–1981: Charles E. Merrill Jr.
  • 1981–1983: Joseph "Jay" Featherstone
  • 1983–1990: Charles Chatfield
  • 1990–2000: Judith Keenan
  • 2000–present: William Wharton

Clubs and Activities[edit]

Student-run clubs and groups at Commonwealth include:

  • Amnesty International
  • Cheese Club
  • Chess Club
  • Commonwealth Chronicle (Newspaper)
  • Community Service (Commonwealth Cares)
  • Debate
  • Diversity Committee
  • Environmental Committee
  • Feminism Club
  • Gay-Straight Alliance
  • Knitting Cult
  • The Leek (satirical magazine)
  • LitMag (literary magazine)
  • Math Club
  • Math Team (Math Olympiad)
  • Model UN
  • Model Congress
  • Pokémon Club
  • Prom Committee
  • Robotics Club
  • Rollerskating Committee, which provides input to the administration on issues such as rules
  • Science Team (Science Olympiad and Science Bowl)
  • Secret Club
  • Swing Club
  • Yearbook Committee

Each year, the rising senior class elects two non-voting representatives to Commonwealth's Board of Trustees.


In its September, 2009 issue, Boston magazine named Commonwealth as the best private high school in eastern Massachusetts.[1]

Academically, the school is one of the nation's elite. In 2012, three seniors were named Presidential Scholar semifinalists. Only 16 schools nationwide had this number or more so honored. Commonwealth had the highest percentage of seniors honored in the U.S. Roughly two-thirds of the senior class is recognized each year by the National Merit Scholarship Program. From 2006 to 2012, 36 students were named National Merit Finalists. In that same period 15 students were named as AP National Scholars by the College Board. Median SAT scores for the class of 2012 were 745 in critical reading, 721 in writing, and 727 in math.

Commonwealth had a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the only Massachusetts school to do so.

Commonwealth is the only Massachusetts school to receive a grant from the Malone Scholars program of the Malone Family Foundation, which independently identifies top-level schools to receive an endowment. "Once endowed, the schools are empowered to perpetually fund scholarships to motivated top students based on merit and financial need."[2]

In 2004, the school was recognized by the College Board as having the best physics curriculum in schools of its size range (less than 500 students) in the country, based on the performance of students on the AP Physics C exam. Most junior year classes prepare students to take a corresponding AP test, though the curriculum is not generally focused on the test itself. [3]

From 2001 to 2015, the most popular college choices were Brown (22 graduates), the University of Chicago (22), Harvard (17), Tufts (17), New York University (16), Wesleyan (15), Bryn Mawr (14), Carleton (14), Columbia (14), Yale (13), Smith (13), and Haverford (13).

School Events[edit]


Commonwealth holds an assembly every Thursday. Speakers have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ted Sorensen, literature critic James Wood, author Claire Messud, Michael Kelly of the Atlantic Monthly, Harvard Law Professors Charles Fried and Lani Guinier, author Samantha Power, Harvard stem cell biologist Doug Melton, philosopher & bio-ethicist Frances Kamm, poet Louise Glück, former ambassadors Peter W. Galbraith and Charles Stith, Mary Beth Cahill, acclaimed American feminist and civil rights activist Peggy McIntosh, free software pioneer Richard Stallman, Congressman Barney Frank, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and various musical groups. Students petition the headmaster to invite speakers they would like to hear.

While the majority of Commonwealth students identify as politically liberal, the head of school frequently schedules conservative speakers such as Charles Fried, former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, and William Kristol.

Special assemblies are held for Thanksgiving and on the day before winter vacation. It is tradition to sing "Bringing in the Sheaves" (by Shaw and Minor) every Thanksgiving assembly, and for students and teachers to recite poems at the Winter Holiday assembly. Other assemblies highlight students' work on independent projects, fiction writing, music, and theater.

Sports and Recreation[edit]

Each year students participate in a competitive sport or organized exercise activity in at least two out of three seasons. Competitive sports include soccer, basketball, fencing, cross-country running, and Ultimate Frisbee. Exercise programs include running, fitness, sailing, dance, ballroom dance, and yoga.


When Charles Merrill was headmaster he started a tradition of twice-yearly trips to his family's farm in Hancock, New Hampshire. These would happen every fall and spring. The school continued to go up to the farm every semester until 1996. The "Hancock" weekend eventually moved in 1997 to Camp Winona, a summer camp in Bridgton, Maine, but the old name remains. The trip to Maine was replaced by a day trip to Provincetown in 2007, and a weekend at Camp Wing, a summer camp in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in 2008. In 2009, Spring Hancock returned to Camp Winona.


On two mornings during each trip, students and teachers organize activities to do, and each student signs up for an activity.

In the afternoons, students are free, and activities such as swimming, boating, various sports, and hiking are offered.

On the last night of Hancock, there is a talent show prepared jointly by the students and staff. There are also two dances: the "Long Dance" the night before the talent show, and the "Short Dance" after it, both organized by the students.


The responsibility for Hancock is shared among faculty and students. Faculty oversee various tasks, such as cooking or sports. Students can sign up for jobs such as cooking meals, running the talent show and dances, and being a bike messenger. For the most part, cleaning bathrooms, collecting trash, tending fires, and other tasks are also led and staffed by students.

Jobs Program[edit]

The jobs program at Commonwealth is a system whereby students are responsible for setting and cleaning up lunch and the recess snack and performing other custodial tasks such as emptying the recycling bins throughout the school. Each student with a lunch clean-up job is assigned to either a "3 Crew" a "5 Crew" or a "7 Crew" two of which work in a single week, with each student on a crew working on a specific day during that week. Generally, the jobs for lunch clean-up are cleaning up the dining area and washing dishes in the kitchen. Those who have lunch set-up, recess clean-up, and recycling jobs work once every week due to these jobs taking a significantly smaller amount of time. Student "crew heads," typically juniors and seniors, take responsibility for directing each jobs crew. The savings created by having students perform these tasks instead of additional paid staff pays for three full scholarships. Many Commonwealth students and faculty believe that the jobs program teaches students a sense of responsibility for the community; the program is often concisely described as "building character."


There are several student-run publications at Commonwealth. They include:

  • Yearbook: Each year, the senior class (and a few juniors in training) produces its own yearbook.
  • Literary magazine: The literary magazine club, with the school's funding, publishes a literary magazine, which accepts many types of literature and art, including poems, short stories, photographs, drawings, and paintings. It is often known as Litmag but has been published under different names.

The school produces CM, a twice-yearly magazine for alumni/ae and parents.

Notable alumni[edit]


Each day includes "Recess," when all students and faculty gather in the school's multi-purpose room for a snack and to hear announcements. Anyone—student or teacher—is invited to make an announcement. The Tuesday recess is longer than the others, allowing for short presentations or discussions.

Each May seniors use an extended Tuesday recess to perform skits that parody their teachers and themselves.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′16.14″N 71°04′42.43″W / 42.3544833°N 71.0784528°W / 42.3544833; -71.0784528