When Westminster had Dorms
Tull and McClarty Halls had Stories to Tell
The Immeasurable Value of the Dorms
The pathway to having dormitory students was a long one, tracing back to when the separation of the Girls School and Boys School was far more absolute.
But by the late 60's, dorm life was firmly established as a dimension of the school's preparation for college and beyond. Living in a bit of a parallel universe, the key feature was that the small number of dorm students did not go home to their siblings and pets and parental dramas at night. They went home to each other.
Dormies were, regardless of gender, away from home first and foremost. The philosophy of Parentis In Loco meant being supervised. At both the Girls' Dorm (McClarty) and the Boys' Dorm (Tull), the entrances might be outfitted with a dictionary, a Bible, and a Demerit Book. The Bible said what to do, the dictionary described what could be done, and the Demerit Book logged craziness – crimes and misdemeanors committed by teen residents in their moments of irrational exuberance.
But the communal aspect of dorm life meant a kind of social intimacy that can only be earned, not prescribed. For example, to this day, women who lived in McClarty Hall have their own special Reunion, keeping the memories and the spirit of their sisterhood alive and well...
Suzy Goldberg '72 gave us a look into the way that dorm life offered a path from pre-teen to post, in a distinct and warm way.
I have always believed that I would have lived a fine life no matter which of the myriad paths I might have taken. Some junctions are large and obvious: choosing a college, deciding to put down roots in a particular community, taking or not taking a job. Others seem more serendipitous: going to a party where we met a future friend or life partner or any of hundreds of chance encounters that shaped our lives, often in ways that are never obvious.
Life would have been good if I had stayed at Dalton High School. I like to imagine that I would have gone to Duke. Maybe I would have ended up living in Asheville. I would have made good friends, and who knows what my professional work life might have looked like.
But I know that going to Westminster – something that was possible only because I could live in the dorm there – shaped my life in countless ways. Coming in as a 15-year-old, I was entering a new world of people with no preconceived notions of who I was. Of course, I was trying to figure out who I was as well.
I loved the academic challenge that Westminster afforded. And dorm life provided a social structure that benefitted me. I also had the freedom to enjoy the beautiful campus that was my home. The friendships established during those high school years have a depth that differs from others in my life. We were all learning who we were as we were becoming ourselves.
While the dorms provided a unique experience to the hundred students who lived there in any given year, I firmly believe that the dormies added immensely to the school itself.
We came from a variety of backgrounds, but we came mostly from small southern towns. A few came from cities, and a few came from overseas, but most came from small towns in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Carolinas. Most of us came from public schools. We brought a different energy and life experience than the many Atlanta day students.
I was extremely saddened when the school decided to close the dorms. It deprived students like me of an amazing academic opportunity, but it also deprived the school itself of an energy and diversity that defies description, but is no less real for that. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have remained in touch with or reconnected with a number of my dormie friends.
While I am sure that my life would have been wonderful, I am grateful to the Westminster dorm experience and my friends from that time of my life for helping to shape the person that I am today.