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Heavy on the Secret Sauce

Taylor Stockdale
I was recently back at my childhood home in Coronado, Calif., taking care of my mom who still resides there. We love to tell stories of when we were young and growing up in that enchanted town in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Back then it was a sleepy beach community with only a ferry connecting the island to San Diego. There was very little development beyond the iconic Hotel del Coronado, rows and rows of Craftsman homes, and a few stores lining the main street of Orange Avenue. There were no fast food restaurants allowed in Coronado at the time, and the concept of “fast food” was still relatively new.

Every once in a while, my mom would declare that for dinner, we would forgo the usual and instead drive to Imperial Beach, a town eight miles to our south, to a Jack in the Box. We would scream with excitement, and pile into our 1964 Volkswagen Bug. As the youngest, my “seat” was the well in the back. We’d drive south on the Silver Strand, which is a narrow spit of land between the ocean and San Diego Bay. At that time, there were no homes or buildings between the two towns. It was pitch black aside from an occasional naval ship coming into port off in the distance. All we had were those small VW headlights as we made our way to what we thought of as the best eatery in the world!

The biggest moment when we pulled up to the drive-through (which was a revolutionary concept) was to say, “heavy on the secret sauce.” At the time, Jack in the Box was advertising its “secret sauce” as the element that made its burgers so good. We always wondered what was in that secret sauce...a huge with some extra relish, but it was seen as almost magical.

We’d eat our dinner in the car (don’t ask me how), and drive home satisfied and talking on and on about what exactly was in that sauce. Whatever it was, we knew it made all the difference.

So, why do I recall this story? Well, I have long believed that Webb too has its own version of a secret sauce—something hard to identify, hard to describe, but it’s the stuff that makes The Webb Experience so rich and so distinctive.

Recently, a group of young alumni came back to an Affiliates meeting so that they could share their experiences as college students having just graduated from Webb. The parents of current students asked many questions about how well these recent graduates were prepared and what to expect in the first year in terms of transition for their own children. The alumni ranged in age from college freshmen to seniors, and their colleges were spread throughout the U.S.—East Coast, West Coast and everywhere in between. They were men and women, day students and boarders, domestic and international, and students of all different interests—athletics, the arts, the museum, etc. It was quite a good sampling of young alumni, and I was fascinated by what they had to say.

College is hard—they all agreed on that. By and large they felt really well prepared for the challenges. But what they talked about mostly was how closely they stay connected to each other as Webbies after graduation, and how often they draw on their experiences from their Webb days in college life. Each of them was so articulate and passionate about their lives. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride. They all spoke of initiating conversations in classes, approaching their professors to discuss material, in every way taking responsibility for their college experience. They all displayed a great work ethic and confidence that I am sure has set them apart from other students. Of course, all this is the result of putting highly talented and devoted teachers together with motivated students in a small, supportive community during their formative years.

You hear me speak often about Webb’s mission, our goals and benchmarks, our strategic vision, and our financial position. These measurements are essential to our quality and our future as an educational community. But what is equally important is maintaining Webb’s secret sauce. It’s the intangibles that are difficult to identify, articulate and measure. It’s the time between classes, the walk up chapel hill, the buzz before formal dinner, the hanging out on a Peccary trip, the quiet moments at sunrise when you can hear coyotes howling in the foothills, and the smell of eucalyptus after a good rain. It’s all of those times on the Alamo lawn, or on the pool deck, on the trails above campus, or out in front of the library dressing up our favorite statue. It’s students taking responsibility for themselves and caring for their friends, and having real and meaningful relationships with the teachers and staff. It’s all of those things—structured and unstructured—that create that distinctive buzz on our campus that I simply don’t feel or see any place else.

In each edition of WEBB Magazine, we seek to show you stories and examples of some of Webb’s ingredients. In this issue for example, we highlight our amazing alumni network, examples of altruism and generosity, the burgeoning afternoon program and the anatomy of a chapel talk. Past issues have covered our evolving curriculum, the great teachers of our school, the remarkable Alf Museum, and the value of endowment. Through it all, though, keep in mind that the best parts of this place are difficult, if not impossible, to identify. As someone who has been here for more than 25 years, I’m still trying to identify exactly what is in Webb's secret sauce.
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