by Kristin Walters
During the fundraising season for the Billy Graham Community Life Commons, the Envision Excellence campaign described the building as a community gathering place that would feed the body, mind and spirit of each student. Even before its official Grand Opening during Homecoming in October, the Graham Commons was already living up to its promise to nourish the whole student.
A building that brings it all together
While one of the main features and most obvious benefits of the Graham Commons is its expanded dining area on the second floor, the building’s capacity to foster stronger relationship connections has become especially evident since students returned to campus in August.
“There is more a sense of family, with students coming together over meals,” said Lauren Bernhagen ’12, student activities coordinator, noting that it also provides a better opportunity for collaboration among student organizations. “The student leadership is united here,” she said. “We used to not have interaction a lot, but now all of our offices are together in one corner, which makes meeting together more convenient and interacting easier.
“Community is one of the reasons I chose Northwestern,” Bernhagen added. “This building really brings all of that together.”
A welcoming space for everyone
Dean of Student Development Paul Bradley said having a place for spontaneous community building is important. “Northwestern is a community-focused campus,” he said. “It is by design a residential campus, and all about the integration of faith—both through living and learning.
“The space [in the Graham Commons] is well designed for relationships, networking and doing life together,” Bradley continued. “It really creates a hub, even for faculty, staff and student interaction.”
Jerod Cornelius, associate dean of residence life, sees the building bringing the community together in ways that weren’t possible before. “It has created a central place for students to gather during the academic day,” he said. “They can take a break, work on homework, and catch up with friends without having to go back to their residence hall rooms.”
The Graham Commons benefits the entire student community. “It is a place for commuters, for the FOCUS students,” Bradley said. Cornelius added, “Before, if commuters were going to get more plugged into the community, here they’d have to try a bit harder and go to the Student Center [in the residence halls].”
A better place to hibernate
Several people on campus see the building’s function as similar to the living room or family room of a house. And the building itself is surrounded by windows for natural light, which also has a positive impact on students’ mental health.
“I think even in the wintertime our students are going to be a lot more energized because of the way the building is designed,” Bradley noted. “If you compare the old dining space in Nazareth as being like sitting in a cave with no windows, this is like sitting in the loft of a lodge. It’s going to be a great place during a long winter.”
Supporting the diverse needs of students
The Graham Commons also provides easy access to the resources students need to thrive on a daily basis. The prayer tower and the Campus Ministries and Student Development staff are strategically positioned for students in need of emotional support and spiritual guidance.
“When students need help with a problem they have in life, we’re just a stone’s throw away from the center of their day,” Bradley said.
This is important because college is a time when most young people are living away from their families for the first time. Bradley acknowledges that whether a student’s family provided a strong support system or not, Northwestern’s staff is ready to step into that support role when they arrive.
“I think we can say with integrity that Northwestern is a place where students can find peace, find comfort, and know that there are people here who love them and care for them,” he said.
“No matter what is going on in a student’s life, if they have financial issues, or found out about a friend committing suicide or a death in the family—even if they find themselves in jail, we are going to be there for them,” Bradley continued. “It’s like a family, and that’s what makes Northwestern a big part of what it is.”