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Wet Clay

Taylor Stockdale
Recently while attending a Webb reception in San Francisco, I spoke with alumnus Dan Murray ’89 for some time. Dan, now in his 40s, was one of the original students I met when interviewing for my first job at Webb in 1988. While we were reconnecting, Dan described for me his feeling that being at Webb felt to him like being made of wet clay. Meaning, as a high school sophomore, he felt he was still very much developing as a person—and he knew that the faculty at Webb at the time were playing a huge role in shaping him.

I found this metaphor powerful, and my mind jumped back to Thompson Webb and those years in the 1930’s when his office was literally in the open air, as he built his chapel by hand. One can’t help but wonder what he was thinking as he molded that wet clay, much like his school was molding each student who enrolled there. He followed not only into his family tradition, but also he reshaped that tradition and made his own mark on the world by using what he found in Southern California.


I have always felt that our high school years are the most formative, and this image of wet clay really brought it home for me. Working with young students of “wet clay” allows a creative faculty to leave impressions that will be shaped and reshaped in the years to come. Wet clay facilitates both original creations, as well as the reworking of the old into something new. Life itself, the nature of which is constant change, depends upon this flexibility.

At this same reception, I had the opportunity to also reconnect with a great number of alumni, including Otis Y. Chandler, ’96. Otis came to Webb carting with him a family legacy in print media. Of course, Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler built the Los Angeles Times into one of the leading newspapers in our nation. When Otis Chandler III graduated from Webb, he decided to carry on the family legacy, but in an entirely new way. Otis started Goodreads in 2007, and it is now the online home to more than 40 million book lovers and readers around the globe. He took what was in his DNA and what he learned along the way and created something entirely new.

Similarly, we have no shortage of Vivian Webb graduates who are now very successful women. I am thinking of such inspirational leaders as Julia Marciari-Alexander ’85, now the Executive Director of the Walters Museum, Faye Karnavy Sahai ’86, a top executive at AIG in San Francisco overseeing the company’s global innovation and digital business centers, restaurateur and chef Jenn Louis ’89, Caroline Adler ’00, Special Assistant to President Obama and Deputy Communications Director to First Lady Michelle Obama, and so many more.

These are but a few examples that represent thousands of alumni who were nurtured here and I believe in some small or big way “formed” on this campus.

I’ve often asked myself, when I interviewed at Webb as a teacher all those years ago, and met Dan and his friends, what was it about them that convinced me that this was the place I wanted to be? Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I think it was this sense of students who were in this process of discovery, students who benefitted from Webb’s rich history and traditions, but were not mired in it the way you see often at other older insitutions. Like the founder himself, these were students who were eager and excited to take risks, create their own passions, and leave their own stamp on the world.

This edition of Webb embodies this spirit of taking the wet clay of our history and legacy, and molding each student’s foundation today and in years to come. This generative process of continually renewing our core is the essence of Webb, and perhaps, our greatest attribute of all.
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  • Autumn Rabe Richards ’97 and James Richards ’97 were married in Vivian Webb Chapel.

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    Taylor Stockdale
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