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.
Ultimately, it was not a career counselor or an “aha” moment I had while writing my thesis that set me on my path, but rather a bus ride that changed everything.
After graduation, in the late fall of 1985, I joined my parents for a sporting event. We took a bus to the stadium. My mom was many things in her life and had reason to be enormously proud of her accomplishments. From appearing on the national stage to balancing a more than full-time career while raising four boys in the 60’s and 70’s—managing her life was no easy feat. But, of all the things she was, the thing she was most proud of was her role as a teacher. She taught middle school English and study skills mostly, and also tutored students with dyslexia. In the late 1960s, she taught middle school English in San Ysidro near the Tijuana border, and in fact, many of her students lived in Tijuana and would get up at 3 a.m. each morning just to make it to school to attend her class.
As we rode the bus that day to the game, a middle-aged man came aboard during one of our stops. As he walked down the aisle, he stopped and looked at us and said, “Are you Mrs. Stockdale?” She said yes and he then introduced himself. He was one of my mother’s students from Southwestern Jr. High School. In fact, he was one of her students who had lived in Mexico and at that time spoke very little English. My mom recognized him immediately. They hugged and she asked what he was doing now. With great pride he said he was a professor of English literature at a local university.
They embraced again. They were actually quite emotional (as we all were at that point). He then said his best friend from the class was a deputy sheriff for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.
A little bit later, when we were all departing from the bus, he said, “Mrs. Stockdale, I was never able to tell you thank you for building me a bridge, a bridge to the person I am today.” And with that, for me as I watched and listened, I experienced the proverbial record scratch or big bang. That was the moment in time when I gained clarity for my life. I knew then and there that I wanted to serve a community devoted to helping students build bridges.
This issue of WEBB magazine is a provocative one, focusing on the future of work and how it will continue to be transformed in this new, technologically rich, hyper-connected, globalized economy. Building bridges for a world that is hard to imagine is challenging, to say the least. Most schools simply haven’t “gone there,” and instead have remained largely the same—pretending as though they were still preparing students for the 20th century workplace.
Being the place Webb is, a true pioneering and innovative leader unbounded by past modes of doing things, we have taken very intentional steps with our curriculum and overall program to align with this new world in the most dynamic and relevant of ways. Our faculty and administrative team have modeled our mission beautifully in having the creativity and courageous leadership to construct a curriculum that is focused much more on skills and habits of mind than on content memorization. After a core foundation in the first two years, students are empowered to choose from a wide variety of courses in their junior and senior years—courses such as biotechnology and honors ethics and modern global affairs. Our curriculum emphasizes hands on, real world experiences in both the lab and the field. Walk around campus now, and you will see students who are not just absorbing material, but who are acting as scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, mathematicians and more. Connections between our classrooms and the world beyond our campus are apparent and embraced by students and faculty alike.
As alumni, parents and friends of Webb, you have reason to be very proud of your school community. We remain true to our values of honor and service, and at the same time have the courage to push forward in ensuring our students are prepared to be the courageous leaders who typify Webb graduates. While the world will continue to change, and Webb will continue to adapt in smart and thoughtful ways, our commitment to nurturing, inspiring and challenging our students will remain our cornerstone. Building bridges for young people to lead productive and meaningful lives has never been more important.
This piece opened the Fall/Winter 2017 WEBB magazine.