Campus & Community

They’ve got personality … times ten

long read

Dunster House suitemates share an intimate look at one another

The Dunster suitemates from back row (left) Richie McCormack, “Moose,” Josh Gardner, and Chuck Kanaly. On couch, Matt Shields, Chad Denton, Brent Zettel, and Gabe Struck with Jon Stein reclining across them. Joe Johnson seated on floor. Missing from the photo is Blair Baldwin. (Photo by Marc Halevi)

Certainly, Commencement marks the pinnacle of an undergraduate’s academic career. For many graduating seniors, however, friendships forged at Harvard are every bit as life-shaping as their academic achievements. To celebrate friendship, the Gazette introduces 10 senior men who share a suite in Dunster House.

Sheer volume makes the 10 suite-mates of Dunster G-5 unique – their rooming group is the largest in the house. They’ve lived together, in various factions that map like a complex flow chart, since freshman year. They’re active leaders in Dunster House and well-liked by their peers as well as the house administrators and tutors.

Yet it’s their dizzying range of personalities and lifestyles, and the ease and strength of their friendships, that distinguishes these suitemates. No one could come up with a single word to describe the group (although Richie offered “handsome”). They are serious and silly, athletic and artistic, tidy and unkempt, classical and hip-hop. Matt and Richie are varsity athletes who are serious about sleep; Jon naps in his car and maintains a schedule that “bears no relation to night and day,” they joke. Chuck is politically conservative; Brent spent several weeks protesting inside Massachusetts Hall. “But I brought him food!” says Chuck in solidarity. As a group, they share games of backgammon and hearts, shifts in the Dunster Grille, a nightly “Simpsons” habit, and Thursday nights at The Cellar. Here, they share their perspectives on each other.

Joe Johnson, by Gabe

How can you describe Joe Johnson, that whirlwind of Dunster energy, in one word? You can’t, and if you were to write a book of Joe Johnson’s good qualities, it would be thicker than “Ivanhoe.” Joe hails from Hamtramack, in the very core of Detroit, and he brings an honest down-to-earth quality to everything he does. Joe bowls like a fox; he is probably the best bowler east of the Ohio. He has been known to bowl left-handed when he takes girls on dates. He still wins. Joe will engage anyone in a conversation about tutoring, music, car mechanics, or Detroit. Even in his senior year he is busy, for he tutors kids, is an iron chef in the Dunster Grille, works/sleeps in the Dunster Library, and cleans bathrooms.

Jonathan Stein, by Joe

Jon hails from Texas, and everything he thinks about is big. Jon is the motivator of our group, not of the “go-get-’em” variety, but more of the “let’s-do-this-crazy-thing” variety. He’s the one who will plan spontaneous trips to Cape Cod or to New York to hear Digweed spin at Twilo. One time at 3 in the morning he took a group of friends to New Hampshire to go sledding. The trails were closed, so Jon towed people around on an icy road as they sat on dining hall trays holding onto jumper cables that hung from the back of his Jeep. Arguably not the best idea in the world, but try telling that to the people who had a blast doing it. Although he rarely goes to class, Jon manages to stay on top of his work and does surprisingly well. He feels he learns more lying in the common room reading “The Economist” (he is an economics concentrator, after all) or playing backgammon while listening to techno or hip-hop.

Josh Gardner, by Jon

Josh is our coolest roommate. He grew up in Connecticut and had to drive a long way to get to school every day, which shows that he’s committed to learning. Josh takes great photos. This kid writes really well, too. And fast. He once wrote a five-page paper in about 45 minutes, and did well on it. Josh has a wicked cool deep voice. He’s wiry but muscular and has a fashionably faded wardrobe. His mom is really liberal and she has a lot of influence on him, I think. He’s about the most compassionate guy I know. He won’t watch most war movies or gangster movies because he hates the violence. This compassion makes him the guy to go to in our room for advice on moral issues. Josh has less stuff than anyone else I know, and I admire him for buying only what he really needs. Josh likes to listen to music more than anything, but of course he only buys the CDs that he’s sure to listen to hundreds of times.

Matt Shields, by Josh

Matt is from Wellesley. He concentrates in biology. Matt studies very hard and devotes a lot of time to lacrosse. Although we don’t get to see Matt as often as we might like, we appreciate his upbeat personality and infectious energy. Matt seems to bring a party with him everywhere he goes. He is outgoing and never has an unkind word for anyone. Matt adds a boisterous enthusiasm to our room. He enjoys sailing, spends the summers on Cape Cod, and wants to be a doctor.

Richie McCormack, by Matt

There are three places on campus where you’ll find Richie: the Newell boathouse, the fifth floor of Lamont, and the bathroom. Since he’s captain of the crew squad, Richie is constantly down across the river at practice, running, or getting ripped in the weight room. When he’s not at practice, you’ll find Richie on the top floor of Lamont. Richie’s the kid who will be there on Friday night studying Chem 427 because the final exam is only six weeks away. Finally, Richie must shower at least five times a day. Bars of soap, sticks of deodorant, and bottles of shampoo go to die in our bathroom thanks to Mr. McCormack. I should also mention that Richie, who was in Spanish A this year, doesn’t speak English anymore. He recites words and phrases that he learned in class – on such topics as the department store and the beach. He has purchased Christina Aguilera’s CD in Spanish and sings the hit “Genie Atrapado” a lot. We all just smile and nod.

Blair Baldwin, by Richie

At the end of fall semester our junior year, when Jon Stein was leaving to “study” for the semester abroad, we picked up a floater: Blair, a transfer student from St. Andrews University in Scotland. The one personality trait that stands out about Blair, besides his sense of humor and resourcefulness (stuck with a walk-through this past year, Blair constructed a tent around his bed made of $10 worth of balsa wood and duct tape), is his enthusiasm. He has taught Aborigines in Australia, hitchhiked across Europe, and toured the Southern United States for “Let’s Go” (in the process compiling the funniest travel log ever written, which he e-mailed to the roommates in weekly installments). Whether he’s hanging out playing Nintendo (he’s a ruthless assassin) or pulling an all-nighter to finish two papers, do an economics problem set, work at the Dunster Grille, and compile data for his sociology research job, Blair has an energy and openness that make him a great roommate and friend.

Brent Zettel, by Blair

Brent looks like a cross between the Keebler Elves and the Ramones. His hair changes colors faster than a map of Africa. Before I met him, Richie explained, “Brent’s sort of strange; he’s from California.” This worked for me, as I always suspected all Californians were cheerful, veggie-eating Buddhists. Brent spends most of his day planning. When you ask him what he’s up to tonight, he’ll say, “I’ve got this 10-page paper due tomorrow, but I haven’t even started … I’ve been too busy planning.” Brent’s knack for “planning” and his genuine devotion to social reform have earned him a respected place in Harvard’s activist community. As I write this, Brent is somewhere inside Mass. Hall protesting for the Living Wage Campaign. I bet he’s happy as a clam – he has a cause he cares about and an unlimited supply of granola.

Chad Denton, by Joe

Chad is the newest member of our rooming group. He has a quiet demeanor, but that won’t prevent him from talking your ear off about subjects he finds interesting, which include French and German music history or what it is like to live in Alaska. As a history and literature concentrator from Juneau, he is a fountain of knowledge about each. In November and December, Chad called himself “dimpled Chad.” Chad sacrificed his body for his thesis, suffering fairly severe RSI in both hands. Chad is also a wonderful pianist, an actor, and a carpenter (he built his own loft and many bookshelves, where he stows his 300-plus books). Perhaps most endearing is his love for the French language – he will often speak in French for hours on the phone with his French girlfriend.

Chuck Kanaly, by Chad

Chuck is always impeccably groomed, he keeps his room tidy, and he needs to have a certain order in his life. Politically, Chuck leans to the conservative side, but he doesn’t let his political views get in the way of his personal judgments of people. Chuck studies neuro-bio, has spent summers in labs, and will go to medical school next year. Even as he was flying around the country for interviews, writing a thesis, and keeping up with his classes, Chuck never got that unshaven, disheveled stressed-out look common to the rest of us. Chuck brings a spirit of focused energy to the room with his many projects. Armed with tools, carpet pieces, and leftover furniture from old storerooms, Chuck has fixed a rocking chair, outfitted at least two rooms in the suite, and even done some electrical work and basic plumbing.

Gabe Struck, by Chuck

Gabe comes from upstate New York, but you would not be able to guess that from his worldly outlook. Gabe has attempted minor theft on occasion, but with the exception of lighters, I don’t recall it ever working for long. I still consider him to be one of the most honest guys I know – he is sincere. He is a Slavic studies major and traveled with “Let’s Go” to Eastern Europe and to India and Kashmir. Gabe enjoys a good game of backgammon, but he only seems to win when there is no money at stake. He loves coffee and drinks ridiculous amounts of it, but only the strong kind he makes with Dominican beans. Gabe has never been described as graceful. Every so often he take a hilariously large fall for what seems to the rest of us to be for no good reason. Gabe plays the tuba and has a broad knowledge of music, but for the most part you will hear either good classic rock ‘n’ roll or rap coming from his stereo. Finally, Gabe has the best taste for beers I have ever encountered.

– Compiled by Beth Potier