Cranbrook Behind the Scenes: My Senior May Experience

Ms. Rice warned me that the first week of my Senior May Project would be hectic and slightly crazy, and it definitely was, but in the best possible way! Being a lifer at Cranbrook, I have learned a lot about our amazing campus over the years, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensely interesting and extremely entertaining Senior May opportunity I have encountered at the Center for Collections and Research.

Riya Batra on set in Saarinen House for the Susan Saarinen interview. Photo by Nina Blomfield.

I joined the department in the week prior to A House Party, the Center’s annual fundraiser, this year honoring Loja Saarinen. Within minutes I was fully immersed into the event preparation. From unboxing the beautifully printed mugs to sitting in on engaging interviews, I was able to experience and assist in a variety of tasks that made me feel like I was actually contributing, even though my contribution was likely quite small in the grand scheme of things.

Riya as Susan Saarinen’s camera stand-in. Photo by Nina Blomfield.

One moment I will never forget was driving Susan Saarinen back to her hotel, after her interview for the film, and seeing an actual dress created by her cherished grandmother Loja. Where else in the world would I ever get to experience something like this?

Leslie Mio packs up the dress by Loja Saarinen. Photo by Riya Batra.

Another highlight of that week was watching the beautifully crafted film about Loja that was created by Kevin Adkisson, Center Curator. It really gave me a lot of insight into the rich history of Cranbrook and Kingswood, which is often overlooked when you are a student here. Even though I have been going here for the past fifteen years, the story behind the school’s designs, from the beautiful patterned rugs that we walk on in the hallways, to the intricate designs in the window panes that we look through daily, is for the most part left untold and students are completely oblivious to the immense thought involved in every minute detail.

Knowing all of this background has really changed my entire perspective of our school and deepened my respect for our amazing campus. For most of my life, I have viewed Cranbrook as simply a beautiful place where I get to go everyday, but I now realize that it is so much more special than that. I am leaving my Senior May Project with a much greater appreciation for this institution, and the amount of care and love put into every single detail of its design.

Coming into this internship, I was not sure exactly what to expect. Trying to tie in my love of history, and wanting to take in every last experience on campus, I thought there was no better place to spend my time than in the Archives. I love learning about how people, places and things came to be, because I believe it is impossible to appreciate the present without studying the past. The majority of my next two weeks was spent looking at old documents and negatives, further satisfying my interest in history, the major I plan to pursue in college.

Being able to look at and even touch some of these documents was extremely interesting. I was given the task to scan these documents, digitizing them to allow public access. From old passports to letters from the early 1900s, reading and handling these historic texts was absolutely mesmerizing, while also slightly stressful, worried I might somehow get them caught in the scanner!

I was given so many unique opportunities to witness and experience things and learn about people that I would not have otherwise and for that I am truly grateful. In a short amount of time, I was able to learn so much about this unbelievable institution, from studying about the creative geniuses involved in its formation, like Loja, to seeing the original architecture plans stored in Thornlea Studio. Witnessing and understanding the remarkable history of how this place came to be, has been incredibly fascinating. I feel as though this internship has been the perfect culmination of my time here, and I am so grateful that I was given this opportunity!

Riya Batra, Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School 2022

Editor’s Note: The Senior May Project is a school-sponsored activity that encourages Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School seniors to acquire work experience in a field they are considering as a college major, a potential profession, and/or as a personal interest.

Riya Batra is a native of Bloomfield Hills, MI and has attended Cranbrook Schools for her entire K-12 education. Her mother Rina Saigal was a 1992 Kingswood graduate. Riya will be attending Columbia University in the fall. The Center thanks her for her tireless enthusiasm in preparation for A House Party at Cranbrook Celebrating Loja Saarinen, as well as her meticulous attention to several related (and unrelated!) archives collections projects. We wish her luck at Columbia and know she’ll do great things!

2 thoughts on “Cranbrook Behind the Scenes: My Senior May Experience

  1. What a wonderful opportunity for Riya to combine her love of history with her love of Cranbrook. The Senior May program offers a unique way for Cranbrook seniors to serve and contribute to their communities while taking their first baby steps out in a world beyond high school. I’m so glad Riya’s thoughts were posted so we can all live vicariously through her and imagine what it would be like to work at the Center for Collections and Research.

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  2. Cranbrook is truly an intensely spiritually aesthetic space! Can’t wait for them to do a “Downton Abbey” type of story about its history!!

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