Moral Courage: The Philosopher’s Stone

January 12, 2021

During the presidential election of 1920, Warren G. Harding coined the term “normalcy,” and it quickly became the butt of a series of national jokes. Apparently, it was thought, the president didn’t know how to spell “normality.” Today, however, it’s Harding’s invention we consider common usage. And today, across America and around the world, it is what’s behind his invention we all long for. We all long for a return to normalcy, and only wonder how we will get there.

THESE ARE TROUBLED TIMES. The pandemic continues to take its toll. Some of us in the Webb community have lost a loved one, others have been stricken or been taken down in ways too numerous to count. We all wish this was not happening. We all want to return to “normalcy.” And I know, in time, we will.

I am writing this letter the week of Thanksgiving. On the one hand, epidemiologists are telling us to stay put and not travel to be with family, to keep gatherings small and invite our elders to visit with us via Zoom. On the other hand, some, knowing effective vaccines are on the way, are prematurely celebrating their anticipated freedom even though infections are setting daily records.

I remember reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in my teenage years and feeling the pain of Pip’s investment in expectations. Dickens wrote before Buddhism became widely read in the West, but he grasped its essential teachings nonetheless: Craving is the source of human suffering. This past year, we’ve all experienced this simple truth in each of our homes and lives. I am reminded, too, that Webb’s founding family, the Webb family, knew this truth though by another route. Sawney Webb, Thompson’s father, emphasized the classics of Western civilization in his school in Tennessee, then the bedrock of a good liberal arts education. Indeed, the ancient Stoics taught us that the only thing that we have power over is our own attitudes.

So, it is baked in. At Webb, we’ve inherited the notion that we must prepare ourselves, and our young people, for times like these. Education is more than subject matter. When done right, education becomes the core of our being. At Webb, we are focused on acting with moral courage, the bedrock of our honor code. I am immensely proud of the Webb community and how we have managed our way through this unfathomable time over these past months. As I look at our students and faculty on so many screens, and see firsthand the mighty Webb staff keeping our campus safe and in good condition, we are indeed living our mission with each and every step we take making our way through. And of course our community doesn’t stop there. Our parents, via the Affiliates, have done so much to support our efforts, including sharing some delicious pies with everyone this last week. Nourishment for the body and soul! And our alumni, our friends, and our leadership volunteers — the Alumni Council, Alf Museum Board and Webb’s Board of Trustees — have all risen to the occasion, determined to make sure Webb emerges from this 99th year an even stronger institution.

I know that our clear and singular focus on our mission has helped us all manage through these times. We remain committed to meeting the many challenges before us now and in the months ahead, and, of course, to a return to normalcy soon thereafter. We will be better and stronger at the end of the journey, I believe, as individuals and certainly as a school celebrating its 100th year.

Taylor Stockdale
Head of Schools

January 12, 2021

16:47 PM PST