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Our Moment in Time

Taylor Stockdale
Early on in his quest for fossils, our beloved Ray Alf set up a small museum in the basement of the Jackson Library with the purpose of telling the story of life. He created a time spiral made out of heavy wire along which were marked various events in the history of the planet. First, an oxygenated atmosphere created a basic prerequisite for life. Then came nucleated cells and sea creatures, followed by amphibians, dinosaurs and eventually mammals. At the very tip of his spiraled wire, he imagined a speck of dust that he would pretend to blow away at the conclusion of his many explanatory tours. “That,” he would tell his audience, “represents the entire time of recorded human history.” When his permanent museum was later built, an enlarged replica of this time spiral was installed there. Alf taught his students that life is short. Indeed, given his mentality of deep time, each of us exists for but a moment. Yet each moment offers opportunity to contribute. Regularly, he would challenge his students: “What are you going to do with your moment in time?”

To me, this question goes to the heart of what Webb is all about. What will each of our students do with their moment in time as students and as graduates? How will they make their time count? And how can we instill in them the values of moral courage, inner strength, fire and drive, and empathy to make them the kind of honorable leaders who typify our great school.

Looking forward to our institution’s approaching centennial celebration in 2022, it is time again to reflect on Alf’s seminal question. Here at Webb, what are we going to do with our moment in time? Recently the Webb Board of Trustees ratified The Centennial Strategic Plan – a vision for Webb and the Alf Museum that will chart our course. New habits of mind, those that make us capable of accessing, connecting and engaging with the global community, will be required.

As a former Latin teacher, I find it especially appropriate that our institutional mascot is the Gaul. Similar to Caesar’s Gaul, The Webb Schools are divided into three parts--Webb School of California for boys, Vivian Webb School for girls and the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. The third component is what makes us most distinctive.

It is incredible to me that Webb is the only secondary school in the world with an accredited museum of paleontology, honoring a discipline that is just now blossoming into new and exciting subfields. The potential this represents is awe- inspiring.

Our little museum on the hill is booming. The most recent Hall of Life renovations, coupled with a major gift to support the research program through the museum’s endowment, have catapulted it into one of the exceptional museums in the Western Region. What it represents to our students is a resource like no other in terms of the study of earth science, original research, and the habits of mind so critical for thoughtful leadership. Dr. Alf’s passion was always in fostering adventurous ways of thinking—what we call “unbounded thinking.” His mind was devoted to what might be termed macro-history, or what he himself termed “total biology.” Today, that construct is referred to by others in his field as deep time. Here at Webb, it is often synonymous with deep thinking, both scientific and spiritual. Alf’s creed was not written in words, but rather in the grand laboratory of nature. Alf had a reverence for life, and not just human life. He appreciated the interconnectedness of all life forms that included even those long extinct.

Today this scientific and spiritual inquiry continues thanks to our museum. When freshmen go out to Barstow, and spend the day finding fossils 15 million years old, and then later that night, looking into the mobile telescope on a large industrial ladder 15 million light years away, or more, they can’t help but begin to ask Ray Alf’s seminal question: What are you going to do with your brief moment in time? It is the deepest of questions for all of us. How do we make our brief time here count?

While the museum has historically been viewed as an addition to the Webb community, I see it differently. I see the museum as the nucleus in our atom. To me, the museum represents how we do everything at Webb – how we approach every discipline – with an adventuresome spirit, and the willingness to get a little dirty. We don’t just memorize facts, we actually do things, and through original student research, we actually create knowledge. In doing so, we challenge conventional thinking, and learn to think differently – boldly and creatively. There are so many examples of alumni who exemplify this in their lives, regardless of their chosen discipline. At Webb, we learn to look at the world differently, and to have the courage to act on our beliefs. Ray’s museum has been all about this since its inception.

Thinking back to our classical roots, Thompson Webb’s father, W.R. “Sawney” Webb, favored an intense study of Latin at his Bell Buckle School in Tennessee. He believed in mental discipline – the conquest of the difficult by the alert, well-organized mind. When once offered a text book entitled Latin Made Easy, Sawney trumpeted, “I would not teach Latin if it were easy. I would teach something else that was hard.” Mastering paleontology is hard, but Ray Alf also showed it could be fun. If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to join us in Barstow each May for our Alumni Peccary Trip. There you will see that Ray’s tradition of teaching continues today with Doc Lofgren and Andy Farke. It’s the very best of Webb.

Webb’s new strategic plan calls for increasing and enhancing the capacities of the Alf Museum to create a world-class paleontology research and exhibit facility. The goal is to make Webb a nationally recognized center for innovation in science education. We will build on our strengths and in the process our entire program will be strengthened. In his day, Sawney Webb focused on Latin and Greek, but his school generated more Rhodes Scholars than any other secondary school in the United States. And to become Rhodes Scholars, his students had to know much more than just Latin and Greek. So it will be in our case as well. With the growing prominence of Alf’s living legacy, all of our academic ships will rise.

The past twenty years have prepared us. Thanks to our strong foundation undergirding our institution, we are well positioned to excel as never before. Let Ray Alf’s legacy and seminal question be our guide as we build a center of learning for high school students that is unparalleled.

Now is our moment. The next great advance in our development is about to begin.
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Alumni News

List of 4 news stories.

  • Summertime at the Alf Museum

    Summer is a busy time at the Alf museum. During the first half of June, a small crew comprised of museum staff and Bob Stoddard ’15 closed out the Cripe Site in southern Utah. This quarry was discovered by Jeff Cripe ’08 back in 2005 and has been the museum’s main dig site ever since. 
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  • 22-1/2 Minutes with Blake Johnson ’95

    Talking to entrepreneur Blake Johnson about The Webb Schools makes for an easy interview because his answer to almost any question about Webb’s impact on his personal life, his business acumen, even his day-to-day comportment, is a resounding, “everything!”
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  • Webb 2019 Commencement Highlights

    On Saturday, June 1, members of the Class of 2019 were welcomed into the hallowed ranks of Webb alumni. 
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  • Judgement Calls: Monica Atiyeh Whitaker ’96

    Monica Atiyeh Whitaker ’96 is a presiding Administrative Law Judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings for the State of Oregon. The role of her office is to provide an independent and impartial forum for citizens and businesses to dispute state agency action against them. 
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Webb News

List of 4 news stories.

  • Honor and Moral Courage

    Christopher Michno
    Mention the word “honor” in a crowded room and you are likely to suffer quizzical glances followed by silence. Honor, to many, seems an awkward, unfashionable, even antiquated concept—something to contemplated in private or through the scrim of heroic fiction, like the blood feuds of the Capulets and Montagues, or the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons.
     
    Yet, Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale contends, there is something important to be gleaned from the discussion of honor, something that has been missing from our cultural climate, broadly, and in education for some time—a focus on moral clarity, of discerning, very simply, right from wrong. Stockdale insists such clarity is possible even though it doesn’t always come naturally. “You have to work at it,” but the benefits, he adds, is that moral clarity allows you to make good decisions.
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  • 22-1/2 Minutes with Blake Johnson ’95

    Talking to entrepreneur Blake Johnson about The Webb Schools makes for an easy interview because his answer to almost any question about Webb’s impact on his personal life, his business acumen, even his day-to-day comportment, is a resounding, “everything!”
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  • CASE Circle of Excellence Award: Gold Winner


    The Webb Schools is one of only two educational institutions (schools and colleges/universities) in the United States to be awarded the Council for the Advancement of Education (CASE) Circle of Excellence Award Gold for emerging fundraising programs in 2019.
     
    The award citation highlights Webb’s dedication to donor stewardship, combined fundraising success over three years (the most in school history), and a variety of excellent programming and publications across the board—including the production and translation of several important pieces into Chinese.
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  • WEBB Magazine

    A new edition of WEBB magazine arrives to you just after Memorial Day Weekend. Spring/Summer 2019 includes an inspiring letter from Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale on moral clarity, as well as two thought-provoking features on honor and moral courage at Webb and beyond. We highlight alumni thought leaders in a variety of interesting professions throughout.
     
    Our Webb Today section revisits Revisit Day 2019, explores our paleontology research program and museum, profiles faculty, philanthropy and the successes of spring athletics. Nearly 25 pages of alumni news rounds out the issue.
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