Headmaster’s Notebook — Where to from here?

I read a Frank Bruni editorial in the New York Times recently entitled, “The Surprising Path that Some Kids take to the Ivy League.” It isn’t about money or privilege or scandal. It’s just about remarkable kids and the life journey that somehow lands them in a well-known college. It’s pretty inspiring, as great human stories often are.

I think a lot about the paths students travel this time of year. As I write we are in the opening days of classes. Eighty of our students are new to Cate and are simply trying to find their place here. The rest have returned a summer older, ready to take on a new course of study, new opportunities for leadership and service, renewed friendships and associations, and aspirations aplenty. All are on their way somewhere, literally and figuratively.

The question is, “To where?”

One would think some degree of clairvoyance would be required to divine an answer, but that presumes that the destination is a place, one of those schools that Frank Bruni and others like to write about. But what if the path doesn’t go to a place?  Not a college or university but an understanding? An appreciation? A character or quality of knowing?

A longtime faculty member at Cate named Jim Durham used to say that the totality of education and its purpose could be summed up in the opening line of “Hamlet.” It is fittingly a question, “Who’s there?”

Especially as we begin a new school year, it is helpful to re-frame the narrative about education for ourselves, our students, and our children. Learning and school are indeed meant to take us all somewhere, but it is not a destination than can be noted on a bumper sticker or a résumé. It is to an understanding of ourselves and our place in the world that we go, to an appreciation of our possibilities and our potential, to success, to setback, and to the confidence and initiative that create resilience. We go to friendships that teach us how to love, to losses that remind us of life’s balance, and to principles that guide us as we imagine a lifetime of orienteering.

At Cate, the path is not set. It is built day by day, moment by moment by young people who are growing increasingly aware of who they might be. And while the world seems to suggest that the future is something to worry about, we prefer to focus on the power of the moments we experience every day and how together they contribute to the mosaic of education, experience, and identity that is each of us.

To emphasize that very character of our individual and collective striving this year, I concluded our Sunset ceremony with the following language. It is a response to the opening lines of our mission statement, “Through commitment …” but it is also a roadmap of sorts for the year ahead:

To what do we commit? To live energetically, to listen earnestly, to consider carefully, to share generously, to imagine broadly, to wander joyfully, to act purposefully, to believe enthusiastically, to argue responsibly, to try perpetually, to fail occasionally and spectacularly, to respond confidently, to wonder happily, to wake eagerly, to celebrate frequently, to laugh heartily, to savor appreciatively, to lounge indulgently, to love graciously, to serve faithfully, to dream vividly, to join willingly, to communicate respectfully, to care passionately, to befriend naturally, to empathize intuitively, to trust implicitly, to breathe deeply, to rush rarely, to forgive completely, to aspire honorably and to be genuinely. To ourselves and each other, this is our pledge at Cate.

Surely, we are all in for remarkable journeys. Welcome aboard!