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Opening Weekend: We Begin!

Taylor Stockdale
Each August, as Head of Schools, it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome our new students and families to the Webb community. Our opening days always begin in an atmosphere of such palpable optimism, energy, and anticipation. As they should! This year I thought I would share an excerpt from my opening remarks with the wider Webb community.

From the time I arrived at Webb over 29 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 event or gathering—whether it’s today’s new parent and new student orientation, or our Parent’s Weekend, or our Affiliates fundraiser and dinner party. I must tell you, too, that the same distinctive flavor is evident even on our most ordinary and regular 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 still with their joy and character and love. Today we literally sit on the site where Thompson and Vivian Webb and their family of young boys camped in tents when they first arrived here 95 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 the Webb family walked onto this campus all those years ago. Our mission is timeless; it is in our soil, our very DNA. We mean to graduate young men and women of honor and character who will, like the Thompson and Vivian themselves, go on to lead meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling lives. And we do.
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.

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 to pick themselves up.

Now more than ever we need to inspire them 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 that your sons and daughters will experience many open doors and many, many outreached hands as they live with us here at Webb.

I’d like to say a few things specifically about our teachers and our students.
Our 59 members of the faculty represent a broad geographical distribution and outstanding educational background. Eighty-three percent hold advanced degrees and 12 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 7:1 and 72% 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 our mission and principles and who taught students by precept and example lessons which endure long after the specific concepts of calculus or US History fade.

Dr. Webb wrote years ago that when he hired teachers, he looked for 3 qualities. Those 3 qualities remain the most important to me today:
  1. They must sincerely care about and like teenagers,
  2. They must be people of character,
  3. They must be passionate about their subject matter and about teaching it well.
I promise you an outstanding faculty and staff to lead the education of your sons and daughters in these critically important, 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 today.

Our 119 new students this year come from 80 different schools, 15 different U.S. states and international locales, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey and Nevada, as well as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Think about the richness of diversity that these statistics alone represents. Think about the wealth of experiences that your kids represent as they join a highly talented and diverse group of returning students.

Twenty-three of our new students have siblings who are current students or alumni of The Webb Schools. But even more impressive than this, overall, 121 of our current students have or have had a sibling at Webb—that is over a quarter of the student body—a remarkable statistic. And four new students have had a parent graduate from Webb. Overall, we have 14 alumni legacy students at Webb this year.

But here’s the fact that stands out to me more than, perhaps, any other. The youngest of our new students was born in December of 2002. Think about that. The fact that our freshmen are the class of 2020 makes me think I’ve just stepped foot in a futuristic sci-fi movie.

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.

Clearly, your kids are an exceptionally bright and talented group who will add tremendously to Webb’s program and to the community.

Along with caring teachers and outstanding peers, it is the quality of life, the principles and values, and the overall educational experience they share that prepares them for the world beyond Webb.

And so then, in summary, let me assure you that we seek to live out our mission here at Webb each and every day. We seek to graduate honorable leaders who think boldly, act honorably, lead with distinction, serve with a generous heart.

Taylor Stockdale is the Head of Schools of The Webb Schools.
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