When I got the call last week inviting me to speak briefly this morning, I was actually traveling for the school in Atlanta, GA, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. In viewing his childhood home, something I encourage you all to do if you have a chance, I was reminded of his modest upbringing and surroundings. I was reminded, too, of the repressive circumstances that existed for people of color in the South and throughout the nation in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s—the time when Dr. King was forging his beliefs, beliefs that would set the stage for the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
To thrive for 100 years a school must stand for something important and indissoluble. Its mission and values must remain relevant and inexhaustible. And finally its stewards, over the ebb and flow of decades of challenge and difficulty, trend and fad, must act with unceasing commitment to its purpose. Above all else, from our founding, Webb’s stewards have devoted themselves to nurturing and inspiring young people to know right from wrong, to live and lead lives of honor and moral courage. This is our living legacy and the strong foundation on which we look ahead to the next century.
It is with great excitement that I write to you as we begin to prepare for the opening celebration of The Centennial Years at Webb. Next October we will gather together on campus, across the country and around the world to begin the festivities honoring our extraordinary schools and museum, while planning for the next 100 years and beyond.
As you know, the story of Webb’s first century began in 1922 when Thompson and Vivian Webb founded The Webb Schools on an abandoned school campus in the foothills of Claremont, California. Over these last 100 years, we’ve seen the timeless values first embedded in the Webb School of California tested and reaffirmed, the establishment of the world class Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, and the founding and flourishing of a singular and extraordinary Vivian Webb School in 1981. Always more than the sum of its parts, The Webb Schools is an educational powerhouse like no other.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to Webb’s 97th school year. As we immerse ourselves in campus life and begin the first full week of classes, I wanted to share some exciting news from our summer here on campus—and tell you a little bit about the year ahead.
At Webb, since graduation last June, the campus has been buzzing with activity. Our Junior Scholars Summer Program for rising 7th, 8th and 9th graders, a boarding program with four separate tracks over two sessions (paleontology, science and engineering, digital arts and leadership), was once again fully enrolled with over 160 students from across the country and around the world. A number of capital projects were also completed in dormitories, classrooms and faculty residences. And work began on the complete re-imagining and renewal of the Hooper Community Center and Centennial Plaza. Our new Hooper Center will include large and small gathering spaces with new technology, a community café, a student services center and more. This major construction project will be completed next summer and officially opened at The Centennial Years Kick-Off Celebration on October 2, 2020. I know it’s more than a year away, but please save the date!
Like many of you, I have to admit, I have scandal fatigue. The daily headlines continue to shock and disturb, and recently hit very close to home. The college admissions debacle that rocked the world of higher education last month, also shook the world of secondary prep schools. Several editions ago, in the WEBB magazine, I referenced the selective college admission process in America as a game of sorts. Not a fun game or in any way positive, but rather as an insidious game of rankings, superficial bolstering, all with high-minded applicants hanging in the balance. Many people responded to me that they agreed: there must be a better way.
As we begin to plan our final push toward The Centennial in 2022, I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the idea of permanence, particularly organizational permanence. What makes some institutions stand the test of time and others simply vanish?
Now that regular classes are officially underway and we are beginning to settle into our regular routines, I am sending out my annual reminder of some of the small but important rules which relate to deportment, respect for one another, and overall civility. Webb prides itself on honor, trust and community. As such, please keep the following in mind as we set out to build our community for the 2018-19 school year.
Honor Each Other
I understand that the use of electronic devices is everywhere. But please, let's say hello to one another when we pass each other on the quad or on a pathway, or wherever we see each other. Let's not forget the power of personal conversation. And let's respect each other enough to drop our phones—if even for a moment—to say hello, and to mean it. Let's also put phones away when in the chapel, and whenever we are an audience.
Good afternoon everyone, I’m Taylor Stockdale, Head of The Webb Schools, and it’s my privilege and pleasure to officially welcome you to Webb. I’m delighted to kick-off the school year with you today in this atmosphere of such palpable optimism, energy, and anticipation.
From the time I arrived at Webb over 30 years ago, I have only deepened my admiration—and my love—for this extraordinary institution and this remarkably beautiful place. There’s always a distinctive flavor to any Webb gathering—whether it’s today’s new parent and new student orientation, or our Parents Weekend, or our Affiliates fundraiser and dinner party. I must tell you, too, that the same distinctive flavor is evident even on many of our most ordinary days here on campus.
Recently, when on a conference call with fellow board members of the World Leading Schools Association, we were asked to brainstorm a theme for our upcoming conference in Prague in the summer of 2019. There was a small but important group of educational leaders from all over the globe on the call representing schools such as Harvard-Westlake and Webb from the west, Groton from the east, Eton College from the UK, and top schools in China, Africa and India. As we started to bat around ideas for the world educational summit, we talked about the changing nature of the workplace given advanced technologies; what it means to be a global leader; how to retain school culture while embracing this new world. These were all rich topics we agreed, and ones we should and must be addressing. But then the conversation took an interesting turn.
I don’t know about you, but when I graduated from college I felt lost. I put up a strong front. I had a degree in history and political science—which, suffice to say, didn’t lead to corporate recruiters kicking down my dorm door and hiring me on the spot. And while I had a plan that at least set me on a course for getting started with my professional life, I knew deep inside that I really had no idea what I wanted to be or ultimately do. I had a job offer from Bank of America in San Francisco, so I took it. It was something.
Taking stock. This is how it begins—simply though completely. After more than a year of planning, gathering data, meeting, discussing, writing and rewriting—and after a four-day campus stay by our CAIS/WASC visiting committee (California Association of Independent Schools / Western Association of Schools and Colleges)—the evaluation work is done.
Statecraft is risky business. In fact, at times and for some, a matter of life and death. The fickle fortunes of city-states and nations, their rise and fall throughout history, can seem both destined and accidental.
I wanted to write you and reflect a bit on this important day, and also share some thoughts on the times in which we live. As I looked out to the flag pole this morning and saw the flag at half-staff, I was reminded of that unforgettable morning 16 years ago.
As we return to campus and settle in to begin Webb’s 96th school year, I am hopeful everyone in the community had an exciting, yet still restful, summer. As for me, I was busy early on with a great deal of travel—visiting alumni and parents across the country and around the world, from Florida and Northern California to Shanghai, Hong Kong and beyond.
In the summer of 1980 I was on top of the world. I was heading into my senior year of prep school. I had an interesting summer job working at a gas station on Cape Cod. And I was getting in shape for my final year of football, a sport I loved.
As an educator of more than 30 years, reading Friedman’s book reinforced my deeply held belief that how we think, interact, learn and teach in the next 100 years will be both fundamentally new and radically old-fashioned.
Each August, as Head of Schools, it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome our new students and families to the Webb community. Our opening days always begin in an atmosphere of such palpable optimism, energy, and anticipation.