Head of School’s Notebook: Hopper

 

The Williams Household has a new member … an eight-week-old Labrador puppy named Hopper. I am sitting on his dog bed as I write, and he is asleep beside me. It’s a strange comfort he offers, just by being here, at a time when comfort of any sort is most welcome.

Hopper’s predecessor was Tater, my companion for more than eleven years until he passed just before the start of school this year. Tater would always greet me on the driveway when I came back from the office, his lips curled into the closest thing to a smile he could produce. I’ve never seen another dog do that, nor am I likely to. Tater was one of a kind.

Hopper will be, too, in his own way. I will care for him and he for me. I can’t really imagine life without a dog. That very fact contributed to my rejection as a candidate for the first real job I ever applied for. I was in college and was invited to interview for an account representative position by Proctor & Gamble. I was a captain of one of the College varsity teams, which is why I got the invite. Other than that, the folks at Proctor & Gamble didn’t know a thing about me.

That changed in my interview, of course, but not for the better. After what seemed like a little pleasant back and forth, I began answering questions about my future. The company chose athletes presumably because they value a certain competitive zeal, which I had when it came to sports. But business … not so much.

It was my comment about dogs, though, that finished me. My interviewer asked me what mattered most to me in the next five years. A smart person would have shown some ambition at that moment, talked about financial or career goals. I told the guy I planned to have two phenomenal labs, and we’d live in a place where they’d have lots of room to run. I hate cities, I said.

Oops.

Looking back on that conversation now, I’m sort of amazed by it. Not because I had done any of the things I should have done—like prepare for the interview or even do a little thinking about whether I wanted to work for Proctor & Gamble—but because my totally unrehearsed answer was sincere, even if ill-advised. It tells me I had already made a bunch of choices about my future in 1985, even though I didn’t really know it at the time.

I find recalling that moment heartening, especially in the uncertain world we find ourselves confronting now. The future was as much of an enigma to me then as it is currently. But it all worked out back then. I even ended up being right in that interview about where I would find myself five years later, though the path was far different than I ever would have imagined, even taking me through two years of living in Manhattan. So much for avoiding cities.

But the unpredictability of the way-finding didn’t change the ultimate expression of my ambitions. I found my path in schools, with a Labrador by my side.

And that’s where I remain, doing what I love with companions I admire—two-legged and four-legged—all around me. Such company makes the world better and more manageable, makes the future brighter and more hopeful, and makes the experience of living—even through a pandemic—a remarkable gift.

Thank goodness for schools, students, teachers, and puppies.