Head of School’s Notebook: Circles

January 20, 2023

On an old Harry Chapin album I used to own – don’t we all wish we hadn’t gotten rid of all our vinyl – there’s a song with the lyric:

All my life’s a circle
Sunrise and sundown
The moon rose through the night time
Till the daybreak comes around

All my life’s a circle
And I can’t tell you why
Seasons spinning round again
The years keep rolling by

I was recalling those lyrics this week as Ginger and I walked through SFO, an airport that has become quite familiar given the years of Cate-related travel. We were headed to a series of receptions in Palo Alto and San Francisco and the opportunity to connect with so many who have become close friends over the course of our tenure at Cate.

In January of 1998, in my first “official act” after my appointment, I made my first trip to the same airport, that time from our home in Houston, Texas, to attend a gathering of Caties at the St. Francis Yacht Club. Because of responsibilities at my school in Houston – I was coaching at the time and soccer season was in full swing – I had to squeeze the trip in between games, arriving in San Francisco just before the reception and then taking a red-eye home afterward.

I was giddy as I met the community of the school I would serve. Paul Denison Sr. ’53 and Rick Baum ‘64 took me to dinner afterward before dropping me off at the airport. Both would be critical mentors to me in my tenure at Cate.

As Ginger and I made our way to the St. Francis Yacht Club for one final time this week, I was remembering that beginning, how welcome I felt, how energized. Two and half decades later, the sensations are no different. The friendships and associations have grown deeper, of course, giving moments like those this week the feeling of a long-awaited family reunion. 

After the event, just like back in 1998, Ginger and I joined the Baums for dinner. We talked again about what’s ahead. This time the path will not lead me to Cate, but another is joining in my place, and so the circle remains unbroken. I don’t know how many sunrises and sunsets – to borrow from Harry Chapin – I have taken in during my tenure at Cate.

Enough to know that there is a certain comfort in the coming and going of days and nights. Mother Nature’s cycles are a reminder to those of us inclined perhaps to hold on too tightly to the present moment to let go and see where the winds take us next. My journey to Cate was one of those serendipitous moments made possible in part by a backpacking trip Ginger and I and the kids took to the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the summer of 1996. The kids were too little, really, to be on such a trip, but they managed, despite my getting us lost on several occasions.

California, we thought after that trip. That’s a place we could gladly call home, but we never imagined that we would.

It’s strange how things work out and how time passes. I think that’s why I like the idea of circles, that all of our journeys are equal parts coming and going. And that wherever we go, we can trust that some day, some how, we will be back there again. As we begin 2023, with all that awaits us in the coming months, that’s a comforting thought.