On our way back from Montana we were stopped by the Highway Patrol at the Nevada border with California and turned around. An accident closed the freeway at Primm for over twelve hours. So we improvised, traveling the highways and byways of Nevada to make our way slowly back to the Mesa. Two of our students who went home to Sierra Leone faced similar challenges. Visa problems prevented them from leaving the country, meaning we are still awaiting their return to the Mesa.
Illness foiled a few other travel plans, and weather is always a question mark for travelers this time of year. It isn’t easy to get here sometimes. And yet, we persevere, find a way, make the best of the situation. I remember times when the need for such adaptability was especially conspicuous.
On 9/11 all of us were on Outing Week trips, which meant that a large chunk of our senior class was traveling around the country seeing colleges and universities. And suddenly, all were marooned, many on the East Coast. A bunch rented cars and drove across the country. Some found trains and a host found each other. Families joined forces and moved as groups. Others hosted travelers throughout the country as they made their way back to the Mesa. All found their way home, most with remarkable tales of ingenuity, adventure and perseverance.
Last year we faced a similar challenge, only this time it was local students who could not reach us. The mudslides forced all manner of adjustments, including ferry trips from Santa Barbara Harbor to Ventura, since the only vehicular access to campus was from the south. A few drove as far as they could and then walked through the flooded orchards to reach campus. And once we were here, this is where we found refuge—all of us—day students (some with their families), faculty families, boarders, even a few friends of the School who were displaced from their own homes. In a strange twist, for a period of time we were cut off, unable to travel off the Mesa. Yet we had all we really needed.
Perhaps it’s unremarkable—these efforts we have to make sometimes to get to Cate. Maybe we’re just trying to fulfill our responsibilities and get to school on time. But I like to think it’s more than that. Something beyond the school schedule compels us to be here and to be together. That belief is reinforced every time I see an alumnus on campus, like I did today when I walked out of Thursday talk and was greeted by two members of the Class of ’18. They, too, had to work to get here. Both are in college on the East Coast, but they recognized a need to be in this place at this time.
Maybe that is a good reminder, especially as we enter this “winter stretch” between the New Year and Spring Break, that we have all heard the call to be here, on the Mesa, and among this community. I like to think that is largely about who we are here as much as who we are here for or who we will be when we leave. Education, after all, is at least partially a journey of identity. And anecdotal data suggests that this Mesa and the people on it help us profoundly in that odyssey. Surely that is why, especially when the world has gone topsy-turvy or the road is somehow blocked, the compass still points us back to Cate. Like the earth’s poles, this place has its own magnetism. And so we find it again and again, from wherever we are in the world.
It seems fitting that we did the same to usher in 2019. Welcome home.