Head of School’s Notebook: What is Cate?

October 14, 2022

I’ve spent the last week re-connecting with Cate alumni in various spots around the country. It has been several years since we have done such things, and it was wonderful to see so many thriving young people. They all had questions:

What’s happening on the Mesa right now? How’s the volleyball team? Did we beat Thacher in Football? Or tennis? Or Cross Country? Does everybody love the new dining hall? What’s happening to Raymond Commons? Can I get one of the chairs from there still? What is Mr. Weis doing in retirement? Or Mr. Wood? Or Mr. Collins? Or Ms. Woehr? Can I come back to visit anytime? Or just move into my old dorm?

Inevitably, their questions gave way to statements. Cate wouldn’t be Cate without …

The answers varied from person to person of course. Many alumni mentioned teachers by name. Or they recalled a moment. Remember that Outings Week trip with Mr. Bonning? Physics with Mr. Plummer was a mind blower. Ms. Edwards and Mr. Robins taught me more about reading and writing than all of my college and graduate school professors combined. Coach Soto was a great mentor to me. I wish I could get a big plate of Wade’s smoked brisket. When I grow up, I want to be Ms. Holmes.

Surrounded in some cases by classmates – we held a reception in New York for over a hundred alumni and friends – so many wanted to talk about the impact of their teachers. The value of the lessons that began on the Mesa has only grown over time, along with the appreciation from those alumni who see so much clearer now the significance of the moments they spent together with faculty and friends on this Mesa.

It wasn’t just the people, though, that enriched their conversations. There was some funny stuff. “I think every Cate student should have to eat a meal at one of those perpetually sticky tables in Raymond,” said one alumna. Another asked about Kitchen Crew, “Please tell me the freshmen still have to do it.” It is fascinating how eager so many alumni are to see that the more unwelcome (at the time) responsibilities and rituals of Cate are perpetuated. “Seniors can give detentions, right?”

But then there was some really earnest affirmation of so much of what we do. Outings Week was roundly embraced, even by those who admitted they are never likely to strap on a backpack again. Advisory, Servons Speeches, assembly skits, the Haunted House that seniors lead each year, all got some air time. But most noted that the whole thing – the combination of people and classes and sports and music and theater and meals and dorms just made life full and broad and meaningful.

There was a small banner at the New York reception that Emily Sosrodjojo ’13, our Alumni Engagement Manager, has been carrying with her to every gathering of alumni around the globe. She is sure to have a photo taken in each locale with alumni holding the banner. In white on a royal blue background it reads, “The Spirit of this Place.”

In each alumna and alumnus, and their stories, it lives. That was the heartening takeaway from my travels.