Is there life after T.J.? As group founder Duane graduates, HL Central moves on

BY JONAS BLANK

Two years ago, HL Central was nothing more than T.J. Duane’s clumsily produced web site hosted on a free server with a foot-long URL. Today, HL Central might be the most recognizable organization on campus, boasting widespread involvement in everything from its well-known bar reviews to large-scale community service projects like this week’s Springfest. Few names are more synonymous with an organization than Duane’s is with HL Central. Although he relinquished executive control last year to a board of six, the organization remains very much his baby. Not only is HL Central Duane’s creation, but his daily project, one that many believe transformed the social climate of the Law School. When the first $20 bus left the front of Pound Hall for New York City–one of the many quality-of-life improvements Duane pioneered through HLC–it was T.J. standing in the cold, talking to the bus driver, making sure everything was OK. Next year, HL Central will boast an expanded 12-member board, a revamped website, more campus projects — but no T.J.

“It’s nostalgic in a sense that this is for me like a child,” Duane said. “It’s a creative impulse that just sort of grew. It’s been such a pivotal part of my law school career.” He reminisced about the May week in 2000, when HL Central was officially launched.

“I did this huge lead-in publicity scheme from March 12. The night before, I was chalking everywhere, everything. The first day, I think about 1400 people went to the site. The first site looked nothing like it does now. It was so pathetic.”

Still, he maintains, the new board will more than be able to fill his shoes. “The people involved now are so much more talented than I ever could have been,” he said, pointing to such innovations as the new web site, which hopes to be a “portal” site for students that provides activities calendars and other day-to-day information. For HL Central’s sake, the organization had better hope Duane is right.

Although the organization is losing its most recognizable face, new executive director 2L Naomi Wolf hopes the expanded board will more than make up the difference.

“I can’t even explain how incredible the new board is, and how enthusiastic they are,” she said. Wolf explained that among HL Central’s key goals are expanding community service efforts and working more closely with administrators on 1L quality-of-life issues.

“This past year was HLCentral’s first year to focus on community service,” said 1L Ariane Decker, who described a range of projects the group started this year. In that time, HL Central set up a tutoring/coaching program with a local elementary school that involved 25 students, raised over $1000 in a Thanksgiving food drive, took homeless children on an apple-picking trip, and established a $1000 scholarship for a 1L who contributed positively to their college community.

The organization’s largest community service project to date is this Saturday’s Springfest, an event traditionally sponsored by the Student Public Interest Network. This year, with HL Central’s co-sponsorship (over $2000 of the organization’s own money), the event is expected to draw over 300 volunteers to over 20 different sites in Boston. True to its original fun-loving mission, HL Central is also sponsoring a party on Jarvis Field after students return from volunteering.

Along with adding more weekend trips and a possible spring break trip for students next year, HL Central also hopes to expand its influence beyond the confines of HLS.

“The short term goal will be to promote interaction between HLS students and other graduate students and make the life of a graduate student in Boston more pleasant in general,” said 1L Maria Meginnes, chair of the Interschool Relations Committee. “In the long term, the goal is to export some of the successful ideas and practices of HL Central to other schools, hopefully creating similar organizations with which we can collaborate in the future.”

Duane compared the concept to the World Wide Web: “The beauty of HLS is you have so many talented people with so many resources. If you broaden that wider, you have trememdous synergies…. You have some of the most talented and enthusiastic and idealistic people in the country.”

The organization’s section representative coordinators also hope to expand the group’s efforts to make 1Ls feel at home.

We hope to make sure that each section gets to have the big events that really make memories as well as the day-to-day things like birthday cards and donuts that really make a difference in the tenor of the classroom,” said 1L Anjan Choudhury, one of the two coordinators. He added that HL Central would also like to try more cross-section events, such as bar reviews for a couple of sections at a time.

To broaden its entertainment focus, HL Central has also tried to promote various arts events in the city, such as this year’s successful Wynton Marsalis concert. “Next year, we will be having the larger outings like the symphony, jazz concerts, opera, ballet and Broadway shows,” said arts chair John Doulamis, a 1L, who also noted that every single HL Central arts event sold out this year. “I also want to work with the cultural groups on campus… to bring more targeted outings to students.”

Looking back on HL Central’s history at HLS, Duane says he’s proud of the impact the group has made.

“I think it’s made a positive change on the campus. I was hearing about this from people who didn’t even know who I was…. Originally, I was surprised so many people subscribed to this sort out of left field idea.”

But even with T.J. out of the city, he won’t be totally separate from thing he created. He remains on the corporation’s board of directors, and is already talking about becoming a big benefactor.

“When I give my money back to HLS, I’m going to give it back to HL Central,” Duane said. “That way, I know it’ll go to the students. I’m not going to give $5,000 back for the law school to use at will.”

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