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.
I often feel that it’s the spirit of Thompson and Vivian Webb shining down through generations, suffusing this great enterprise with their joy and character and love. Literally, where we sit, is the site where Thompson and Vivian Webb and their family of young boys camped in tents when they first arrived here 97 years ago. What must they have been thinking as they set out to start a world class school in the barren foothills of Southern California in the early 1920s?
The world has certainly changed since those quiet nights on the hillside in 1922, but our mission hasn’t wavered since the minute Thompson and Vivian walked onto this campus all those years ago. Our mission is timeless—it is in our soil and very DNA. It is to graduate young men and women of honor and character who will, like the Webbs themselves, go on to lead purposeful and fulfilling lives.
One does not need to look far at the state of affairs in our country and our world to understand the relevancy and importance of our mission today.
In fact, one might say that our mission of honor, service and leadership is more important now than ever before. If Webb were a political candidate, I suspect our campaign slogan would be:
Now, more than ever we need to teach our students to have moral courage and inner strength.
Now, more than ever we need to guide our students so that they know how to solve tough problems in creative and collaborative ways.
Now, more than ever we need to teach our students how to fail and pick themselves up.
Now, more than ever we need to inspire our students to work for a purpose greater than themselves or their own livelihoods.
Now, more than ever our students need communities like this and people like us (faculty, parents, and alumni) to serve as their role models.
One thing I know for certain is that it is the people, especially our current students, teachers and parents, who create the distinctive flavor and substance we know as “The Webb Experience”—gracious, genial, genuine, and generous. I promise you that your sons and daughters will experience many open doors and many, many outreached hands as they live with us here at Webb.
In fact, I’d like to share a few specific things about our teachers and our students.
The 57 members of our teaching faculty represent a broad geographical distribution and outstanding educational background. Over 80% hold advanced degrees and some 25% have earned PhDs. The faculty is balanced by gender, age and family status, providing students exposure to and understanding of a variety of adult life experiences. The student/teacher ratio is 6:1 and 74% of the faculty live on campus. This accessible, experienced and dedicated faculty serves students outside the classroom as coaches, advisors, dormitory parents and in countless other ways.
Ask any alumna or alumnus what made the greatest difference in their life and the response invariably includes the name of a Webb teacher—someone who exemplified the schools’ mission and principles and who taught students by precept and example.
Dr. Webb wrote years ago that when he hired teachers, he looked for three qualities. Those three qualities remain the most important to me today:
1. They must be people of character,
2. They must be passionate about their subject matter and about teaching it well,
3. They must genuinely like being around and working with teenagers.
I promise you an outstanding faculty and staff to lead the education of your sons and daughters in these critical, formative years.
As important as we know key adults are in the lives of teenagers, so, too, are his or her peers. The opportunity to forge lifelong friendships is one of the most significant benefits of fine schools like Webb. Nothing defines a school more than the nature and quality of its students, and few things say more about us as people than the friends we choose and the way we treat them. As a small, intimate school that is a second home, Webb has a special opportunity to provide an outstanding peer group, to nurture lifelong friendships, and to define the quality of life our students lead and share with others.
Let me tell you a bit about the group of new students your sons and daughters join.
First, you should know that this was our most competitive year in admission in our 97-year history. Our 111 new students and parents should feel enormous pride. Our new students this year come from 80 different schools and 19 different states and countries including California, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, New York, and Utah, as well as Argentina, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, and Vietnam. Think about the richness of diversity that this statistic alone represents. Think about the wealth of experiences that your kids represent as they join a highly talented and diverse group of returning students.
I’ve had the opportunity to read the admission notes for this class and have been briefed by our admission team about their many impressive accomplishments and interests. Here are just a few that jumped out at me:
In the way of sports, the entering class includes soccer players, baseball players, dancers, club team athletes, travel ball players, competitors and captains. And musically, they play the piano, guitar, flute, viola, cello, percussion, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, ukulele and more.
We also welcome among them paleontology bloggers, Scripps Spelling Bee contestants, Gold Team soccer players, cyclists, accomplished skiers, black belts, scuba divers, Rubik’s Cube champions, and even a world champion figure skater.
We have entrepreneurs, too, one who has designed an automatic dog feeder, another crafted necklaces from laundry powder, and one who has built a computer from scratch.
And they’ve already been busy making a difference in the world as well. Someone here has built solar lights for Maasai girls living off the grid, been a blogger on social issues, and someone else established a computer science club at his school.
And so many other examples as well.
More than anything though, I love how our new students’ values align with our mission and values:
- They think boldly, mindfully and creatively, attributing innovative thinking to a person’s success.
- They act with honor and moral courage. They start anti-bullying clubs and embrace those who might be different from them, standing up to those who mistreat others, and making sure “no one eats alone” in the cafeteria.
- They lead with distinction, listening to others above themselves. They are presidents and vice presidents of student government and founders of service clubs. They identify as servant leaders.
- They serve with a generous spirit in their churches and schools. They sew pillowcases for children in hospitals. They spend time working with children with autism. They raise financial support for those in orphanages, and spend time connecting with these children. They believe serving does not have to be big, but it should be with your words and your heart. They find joy in making a difference in others’ lives.
And finally, in their own words during admission interviews, your sons and daughters have said:
“If you have a problem, don’t stop until you solve it.”
“Respect is more important than popularity.”
“Success is breaking your own limits. Maybe it’s not something magnificent, but you change yourself”
“Life is about love and giving to others. You can’t just help yourself, you have to help others. That is a meaningful life. Include others. Make the most of your life. Be optimistic. Be loving.”
“Put me anywhere in the world, and I will survive. If it’s the ocean, I’ll learn to swim.”
“Never give up. Work hard. Be kind.”
”My life is enough.”
“Have at least one thing that you fail at, so that you can be stronger.”
Your kids have already defined themselves by their passion and many achievements, and we look forward to stretching them further while they are here at Webb. They are scholars, actors, athletes, debaters, coders, entrepreneurs, student leaders, and community servants. They are an exceptionally bright and talented group who will add tremendously to Webb’s program and to the community.
Some stunning studies have come out recently on the American teenager. As you know, we live in an age of unrelenting connectivity—social media abounds—Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. Also, as many of you know, American teenagers (and I suspect teenagers in other parts of the world as well), instead of feeling more connected, have never been more disconnected, more anxious, more tired, lonely and lost. Tomorrow, we will hear from Dr. Jean Twenge about her research into the iGen generation. She will talk about how this unrelenting digital connectivity can and must be counterbalanced by a robust emphasis on human connection. The good news for all of us here today is that this is exactly what Webb is about. We value true human connection more than anything else. It will be a fascinating and instructive morning.
The next time we will see each other as a group will be at Parents Weekend. Between now and then everything we will be doing with your kids (the retreats, the weekend program, academics, in the dorms, etc.) will all be in an effort to build community. Some of it will be challenging. And you might well hear about it at home. Please know we have been doing this work now—building community—for 97 years as a school. You have chosen wisely. The first weeks of school can be the most challenging for the students and also the parents. But we are exceptional in what we do, and take your kids well-being and safety with the utmost seriousness and regard.
And so, let me conclude by welcoming you again, by thanking you for the confidence you have placed in us by sharing your sons and daughters with us, and by expressing my great enthusiasm for coming to know you and your children and working with you on their behalf.