Several weeks ago in Sunday Chapel, one of our highly talented and devoted faculty members gave an address to the students that I thought was particularly moving.
When in chapel, you may remember that the handcrafted wooden pews tend to creak at the slightest movement, and so it is common to hear an occasional light creaking sound throughout a service. When the pews don’t creak at all, I know that the speaker really has the full attention of the audience and what he or she is saying is reaching all of us in a deep and meaningful way.
On this night, as I looked out on the students from the altar, I noticed a particular attention to our speaker, as his message was both relatable and insightful. The gist of it was that we as students and adults tend to learn much more from defeat and failure than we do from success. He was making the point from an athletic standpoint, using the recent Sochi Olympics as his reference point (he also happens to be an Olympic-level speed skater and cyclist), but it soon became clear that his message related to all facets of life.
As people, young and old, we succeed and we fail. Dealing with success is straightforward enough, but how we deal with failure and adversity can often define us. Some of us emerge stronger and more resolved from it, and others recoil, see themselves as victims and become defeated. Of course, it got me to thinking about Webb and our mission, and how important it is to foster not only the academic skills and habits of mind that will generate success in life’s pursuits, but also the inner strength and fortitude to pick oneself up from defeat, dust off, and move on as a better, wiser, more determined person.
You will find bundled with this issue of WEBB magazine The Centennial Strategic Plan 1922-2022
, a plan anchored in our mission of honor and moral courage and framed by our five distinctive qualities. In it you will note that The Webb Schools—Webb School of California, Vivian Webb School and the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology—are on a journey in time. Soon we will be celebrating our first century. This approaching milestone encourages us to look backward. Reminiscing has its own value, but knowing our history also offers perspective needed for moving forward. In creating an elaborate strategic plan for leading Webb’s three institutions into its second century, we recognize our past and present strengths. We also imagine Webb reaching new heights.
While most plans of this nature are politely glanced at and placed on a shelf, only to be reviewed every several years, this plan deserves far more respect. For it contains goals and aspirations that few schools would have the courage to establish. It seeks, on one hand, to honor fully our founders’ vision of a place that defies modern day trends and relativistic culture, and encourages an education deep in developing inner fortitude and moral courage. And on the other hand, it is truly forward looking, harnessing all that is changing in education and in the world—establishing a dynamic experience for our students, which is unparalleled at the high school level in depth and in impact.
Recently, I was reminded by a Webb student that the two Chinese symbols for “crisis” mean “danger” and “opportunity.” That twofold meaning needs to become Webb’s template for moving forward at a time when many disastrous situations are converging. Life in the 21st century will have multiple challenges, many of which are now beyond our imaginations. Such times will require exceptional leaders, able to be flexible while remaining true to unyielding principles of right behavior.
As my favorite philosopher once said, a good education prepares you for success, but a great education prepares you for failure. At Webb, since our founding, we have been all about striving for success and excellence. And at the same time, we have known that inner fortitude, strength, honor and having the moral courage to do the right thing, even when the right thing was the toughest path to take, are the attributes that count most.