Griswold Head of House Profile: Hunter Cuniff
A student knocks on the door leading to Griswold Head of House Hunter Cuniff’s apartment and asks for uncooked rice after dropping his phone in the toilet.
A student knocks on the door leading to Griswold Head of House Hunter Cuniff’s apartment and asks for uncooked rice after dropping his phone in the toilet. While this may seem like an odd request—at least for most of us—these situations are not out of the ordinary for Cuniff. From encountering public safety in the house with a student needing to move in at 2:00 AM, to unlocking a student’s door after he sleepwalked, he has seen it all.
When Cuniff first came to Lawrenceville as a teaching fellow in 2010, he was immediately hooked. “I knew nothing about Lawrenceville before I came, so right when I stepped foot on campus, my jaw dropped straight to the floor,” he said, while speaking of the School’s college-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, at the time, the School was not permitted to employ him directly after his fellowship ended, so Cuniff spent the next year teaching at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. He couldn’t stay away from Lawrenceville for too long, though, and he returned the following year as a Spanish teacher. Outside of the classroom, Cuniff coaches the girls and boys tennis teams, and this year, he will also be coaching House basketball.
After serving as Kennedy House’s Assistant Head of House for four years, Cuniff was offered the opportunity to become the Griswold Head of House in 2017. “Admittedly, I was excited by the idea of staying in the Circle since I was most familiar with [it]. I love the traditions as well as the consistency of having the same boys in the House for their III and IV Form years, and even as Prefects,” he said. Cuniff is currently in his fourth year at Griswold where he lives with his wife Sophie, daughter Linley, six-month-old son Parker, and of course, his dog, Sandy.
According to Cuniff, being Head of House is “a 24/7 job that requires a great deal of communication.” He frequently meets with prefects, speaks with adults and families, and chats with underformers; these interactions allow him to ensure the well-being of each student in the House. On the importance of communication in his role, Cuniff said, “The more information I have, the better I can do my job and support the boys in the House. It’s important that everyone involved has an open dialogue so we can stay on the same page and tackle challenges together.” Nevertheless, being Head of House is not an easy role, and Cuniff has often struggled to juggle his responsibilities with family time: “This position requires long and unpredictable hours; for example, I may be called away at a moment’s notice to take a student to the emergency room. So, the biggest challenge is making sure I’m there enough for my own family.”
In order to make Griswold feel like home, Cuniff actively works to ensure that his family and members of the House have a strong relationship. Prior to Covid-19, Cuniff and his family often ate meals in the Griswold pod in Irwin Dining Center, where “Linley would wave ‘Hi’ to the boys and bring them a banana. “She has this obsession with bananas—everyone has to get a banana—so she made sure to deliver one to all the guys.” As Cuniff puts it, “Linley has 42 older brothers.”
Griswold’s unique traditions also make the House feel like “a home away from home.” From go-karting in the fall to reciting “Twas’ the Night Before Grismas,” he appreciates these special events because they allow members of the House to bond with one another. Beyond these formal traditions, though, he enjoys seeing students watch a game in the common room or play Among Us on the porch. According to Cuniff, “These daily, casual interactions are equally as wonderful because I get to see students in their element: being themselves and coming together over shared interests.”
However, it’s not all fun and games (and bananas). As much as Cuniff enjoys serving as a parent figure for the boys of Griswold, being Head of House also comes with a great deal of responsibility. “We are your family away from home. [Heads of Houses] are here primarily to ensure your health and safety, and that definitely weighs on me… especially [with] Covid-19,” he said.
During these unprecedented times, Heads of Houses are posed with even more duties, and consequently, Cuniff sometimes feels as if he is forced to be a “disciplinarian.” Before the pandemic, his responsibilities were varied and included the following: creating an inclusive and welcoming environment in the House; supporting students both academically and socially; and communicating general reminders ranging from sign-out procedures to Explorations credits. His pre-Covid-19 interactions with students were often along the lines of “Hey, did you catch the Ravens game?” or “Did you PR in your event this week?”
Now, with the added responsibility of ensuring students adhere to the Best For All Agreement, Cuniff feels that his connection with students in the House are more formal than he would ideally like them to be. “Many conversations have been about rule enforcements or take place only when someone really needs [me]. Luckily, with common rooms opening up, we’re now able to have more informal hangouts that help me build authentic relationships with the House,” he said.
While the pandemic has certainly altered his responsibilities, Cuniff feels especially grateful for his time on campus with the Lawrenceville community and in Griswold. Out of the many life lessons he has learned as Head of House, he places special importance on one in particular—“The little things matter.” Whether it be odd requests for uncooked rice or Linley’s obsession with gifting the boys bananas, Cuniff appreciates these small moments that unite members of the House, noting that “what comes in as 42 distinct personalities ultimately ends the year as a collective brotherhood and family.”