Head of School’s Notebook — Making the Turn


My daughter, Grace ’10, ran the 400 at Cate. I always enjoyed watching her in that race, which she both loved and loathed. That kind of pain has its rewards, but you pay a price, too. Grace was a patient runner. She never went out too fast in the 400, as so many do. I’ll never forget watching Justin Strauss ’00 in his first 400 at Cate, leading the field by what looked like 50 meters when oxygen deprivation set in down the stretch and his strong and sure legs suddenly turned to unruly spaghetti.

Grace tried to avoid that outcome, so she paced herself through the first 200 meters. She was rarely in front early in races. She was simply striding, looking relaxed but focused. Through the turn, though, she would pick it up. You could see her stride extend, her arms pump more deliberately, her body lean ever so slightly forward. She was building her pace in those strides and those moments. When she timed it right, it looked like she was running downhill through the stretch, accelerating steadily as everyone else lost momentum. Though she ran hard throughout, everything special Grace saved for the final third of the race. And then she let it all go in the sprint to the finish.

It’s an apt metaphor, in many ways, for a school year. We begin by trying to control our pace, by managing our time, by getting our rest when we can, and by staying abreast of the field or at least within striking distance. It’s not like we aren’t working hard. We are. But we know how much lies ahead. We have to stay in stride.

Winter is the toughest stretch candidly. We get impatient. The end is not yet in sight. It gets dark too early. We can’t all fit around the table by the fireplace in Raymond. It’s occasionally a struggle.

But then it happens. We hit the turn and we start to lean in, ease up on the restraints, lengthen our stride. We start to feel our fitness, like day four of the Kern trip when that 14 miles straight uphill doesn’t actually seem so bad. Tired as we are at this point in the race, we know that we have something left in the tank. There is still challenge ahead, but we are curious to see what we can do, hopeful, excited, ready.

I write on the eve of that very moment. Our students have headed home for a well-earned Spring Break. We are in the turn. And the stretch run ahead holds some unprecedented opportunities. Not only do we await the remarkable scholarship that will distinguish the coming months, but we will be audience to a host of impressive senior inquiry presentations. We will bear witness to the transition our juniors will make as they take on the leadership roles they will carry next year, and we will welcome 70 new families to the fold and watch them begin their transition to Cate.

Then, in the middle of April, we will open Booth Commons; the dining facility and community center that we have devoted literally years to planning, designing, imagining, and funding. You will recall that when this campus atop the Mesa was first constructed in the late 1920’s, Mr. Cate and architect Reginald Johnson made the Raymond Commons and its attendant community functions a centerpiece. It was and is a tangible expression of community.

Booth Commons rephrases that continuing narrative on a scale and in a manner that supports the current generation of students. It is our new center, not simply connecting the many spaces on campus but the people who occupy them. It is where our paths lead and what we are running to, an achievement and a resource that we will all share, a culmination of a long road.

And Raymond will soon get the attention it needs as it transitions from the community center of the school to the academic center. Its 22,000 square feet will house our new library and learning center, five classrooms and an innovation lab, school archives, student services offices, study pods, and a refurbished and restored McIntosh Room. It is a new chapter for this iconic structure so that it will serve this community as powerfully in our second century as it did throughout our first.

Progress can be measured in lots of ways. Any 400 runner can tell you that. They finish where they started, but they are changed simply by running the race. At Cate things are no different. We travel in school year circles to discover ourselves in the journey. And sometimes, along the way, we fundamentally change the landscape, augment the path, so that the race itself becomes more informative and the culminating understandings all the more assured.

This is one of those years and we are leaning in already.