Come for the Cookies, Stay for the Company

The warm aroma of fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies, passionate cheering for the fierce opponents of a ping-pong match, and the muffled chatter of friends are just a few things you are bound to find at Open Home. Governor’s Academy is the only other school in the country can boast the fact that the headmaster’s home is one of the core places to hang out each weekend. Since 1992, the dynamic Mulligan duo has opened their home to the school every Saturday night. This tradition was modeled after a similar event hosted at the school that the Mulligans taught at before coming to Thacher. There, the kids would have cookies, make tea, and play board games; comforts that Thacher students now enjoy. When asked about the early stages of Open Home, Ms. Mully recalled the first few weekends. “The first Open Home, everyone came. I ran out of food, all I had was cookie dough! I hardly had anything to eat or drink. And I said to Mully, “Well that was fun but I’m sure it was just a novel idea.” The next week, everyone came. Pretty soon, it was very clear that this was something kids would want to do.”

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I was particularly interested to hear about the magic behind-the-scenes that truly makes Open Home come to life. Over five hours of preparation go into the two-hour weekly event. Early on in the week, Ms. Mully spends about thirty minutes planning for the coming Open Home. The ingredients, most of which come from the Dining Hall, are delivered on Wednesday. On Friday, the cookie dough is prepared for the coming day, a task which usually takes an hour to complete. Understandably, the bulk of the work comes along on the weekend. An hour and a half before Open Home starts, board games, snacks, and a movie are set up. Ms. Mully starts baking cookies about an hour before the crowd starts pouring in. After an evening of fun and relaxation, 45 minutes is spent picking up trash and cleaning up the house. “The next morning is another full hour of cleanup.”  Ms. Mully added that “behind the curtain is always just a boatload of work”. Phoebe Cao ‘19 is especially vital in setting up. Phoebe says: “I’ve got a system down for the cookies. It’s really fun and I love helping Ms. Mully so she can take a break.” Although most of us just enjoy the finished product, when speaking about Open Home, we can’t overlook the tremendous efforts put into it.

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A typical night at Open Home is usually spent in the various charming facets of the home. In the extension of Mr. Mulligan’s study, a coffee table supports an intense game of Jenga and a hefty bowl of M&M’s. A handful of chocolate candies comes in handy after a nail-biting round. Someone usually takes charge of the music for the night and blasts tunes for all to enjoy. Throwback Justin Bieber and Spice Girls tracks never go out of style amongst the Thacher community. Countless felt coloring sheets and tins full of markers and pencils are spread out on the center table to create the perfect masterpiece. The kitchen is arguably the hub of all activity: some are gathered in the far corner munching on vegetables, others are fixated around Ms. Mully’s famous gooey chocolate chip cookies. Fun fact: about 120 pounds of chocolate chips are used annually for Open Home’s cookies. A few other faculty members cook cheesy quesadillas while chatting with the students passing by. Next to the kitchen, a room full of students are cozily gathered around watching a movie. Outside, a game of ping-pong is the center of attention. The two competitors at either end of the table fix their gaze on the small ball which gains momentum after each contact with the paddle. Cheery fans are seated along the wooden stairs, usually supporting both ping-pongers. No matter where someone spends their time at Open Home, it is bound to be marked by witty conversation, humble laughter, and good company.

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Aside from being one of Thacher students’ favorite weekly pastimes, Open Home is incredibly important in creating and supporting our close-knit community. Ms. Mully shared that in hosting Open Home, they “want every kid on a Saturday night to feel like they have a place to be.” Like communal assemblies and formal dinners, Open Home “puts a good anchor in the week, it’s predictable, it’s reliable.” Faculty members hang out with students in a casual way, and people get to enjoy each other’s warm company. Having a communal event such as Open Home is “eyes-on, ears-on in a completely different way than we usually do here.”

Each year, three or four alum come by [to the house] to show a friend the many Open Home collages hung on the wall by Ms. Mully’s study. Over time, the Mulligans’ home has fostered all of the community’s greatest memories. “I think of that house as a house that breathes- it grows when it takes people in and then comes back down.” The home is a place that was “built to hold everybody over time.” In Ms. Mully’s wise words, “Thacher’s strength depends on the interweaving of our lives in an authentic way.” And that’s exactly what Open Home has achieved each week for the past 25 years.

Photos by Dana Vancisin.