“What’s special about Atlanta is how arbitrary it is,” said Atlantan and Hillsdale College graduate Aaron Schepps ’14.
Areas like Washington, D.C. or Grand Rapids, Michigan have long been the centers of gravity for clusters of Hillsdale College alumni. But Atlanta is the newest landing spot among alumni due to Atlanta Classical Academy, an affiliate of Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative. To Schepps, Atlanta’s arbitrary quality has a sort of pull.
Schepps and several other alumni who graduated between 2014 and 2019 moved to the city to help found the academy. All together, around 15 people connected to Hillsdale have lived in the same apartment for more than five years, including a history professor Samuel Negus who left the college to teach at the academy for a time. They call this apartment, “the Commune,” located in Buckhead, a neighborhood just north of Midtown.
“The Commune in specific here is actually just one apartment building that’s this old, 1950s-built, two-story brick apartment building with outdated appliances but fairly affordable cost,” Schepps said.
Schepps was one of the first to set his roots in the city. In 2014, he moved after graduating — and getting married the day after. He worked as a literature teacher his first year at the school. He is now the assistant principal of the upper school and lives with his wife and daughter in a home nearby. He still remains close to the Commune — an intentional decision made by him and his wife, Megan.
“The ad was all caps and said, ‘Have you ever found the best deal in Buckhead?? AAA location. A++’ so it looked like a scam,” Schepp said. “But it didn’t have a lot of the trappings of a scam so we called the number and it linked to a Chinese restaurant and I said, ‘Okay, this just seems like a really good deal,’ and sure enough it was a real listing.”
Schepps originally started teaching at the school with Joshua Andrew ’14, who is now the principal of the upper school, Garrett Holt ’14, former RA of Simpson dorm, and three other alumni. All together, nine moved down that year. Then Schepps began making a steady effort to recruit more people from Hillsdale. Others followed, and eventually the name, “Commune,” stuck.
“We’ve simply picked one place among what could be many and decided we’re going to make it a priority to live in continued community with people with whom we share strong values and with whom we’d like to do really hard things, like making our way through life,” Schepps said.
Amidst the hard things, Schepps said there are bursts of fun throughout their weeks, as the group takes full advantage of all Atlanta has to offer.
“Dining from all over the world in the most unbelievably cheap forms. You can basically street dine for $7 a head for 15 miles,” Schepps said. “At various times we’ve had an event where we go out to Buford Highway and try something new every week.”
Other Friday night activities include making a potluck meal together, grabbing takeout, or going out to bars and breweries.
“Sometimes stuff pops up in the middle of the week,” added James O’Rourke ’17, another Atlanta transplant who tests software for BlueFletch, an app development company. “There’s a general expectation that if someone wants to see you they’ll go knock on your door, kinda like the open-door policy that was prevalent in the dorms.”
O’Rourke moved in the day after graduation. He came on a whim for a summer internship without knowing anyone but Aaron Schreck ’16. Within three weeks, he said he started to feel welcome by the Hillsdale community that already existed.
“I showed up here not knowing anybody and the only guy I knew moved out in three weeks,” he said. “Even at that point in time we were comfortable and I had a lot in common with them even though we were at least three years different at Hilldale.”
O’Rourke said he was blown away by the camaraderie and likemindedness.
“I’m sure not many people have the opportunity to leave their school and retain that sense of purpose and encouragement to keep learning that you experience at Hillsdale,” he said.
O’Rourke enjoys a lot about the local area, especially the Appalachian Trail which begins nearby at Springer Mountain. He volunteers for the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club.
“It’s weird to say but [Atlanta] is not a fun place to visit,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a great place to live.”
Haley Hauprich ’19, one of the Atlanta’s newcomers, agreed. She moved to Atlanta to teach literature at the academy and has quickly found a community in the city like the one she loved on campus.
“In many ways it’s felt like an extension of college,” Hauprich said. “The things that I loved about Hillsdale — being with people I cared about, spending time with them, being in community — it definitely feels like the people who came here before me were really deliberate and intentional about creating that and I just sort of fell into that and inherited it. And now I get to be a part of it.”
Hauprich said she has enjoyed walking the BeltLine — a series of walking paths around the city — and stopping off at breweries along the way. She also enjoys Krog Street Market, a local food hall, and coming back to the apartments and playing games with everyone.
This group has successfully formed what many Hillsdale graduates remember as the school’s unique charm, said Schepps. To him, that founding spirit coupled with intentionality is the basis for the success of the Academy and this community of friends.
“I love the way in which when you go and get what you get at Hillsdale you recognize the need to replicate it in the world in both small installations,” Schepps said, “Like having a weekly tea time or trips to Buford Highway, or bigger efforts like starting new schools and planting new churches.”