Head of School’s Notebook

January 21, 2021

Head of School’s Notebook: Unfinished

  Unfinished. Abraham Lincoln used the word at Gettysburg. “It is for us the living to be here dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here so nobly advanced.” Amanda Gorman, the youth poet laureate, used the same word on the steps of the Capitol, a century and a half later, on behalf …


December 4, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook: Kaavan

December 5 is an auspicious day at Cate, the anniversary of our founder’s birth 136 years ago. No doubt Curtis Cate had no idea in those fateful days of 1910 of the scale of the enterprise he was beginning, of his school’s potential impact and its endurance. Likely he was thinking instead of the students he …


November 13, 2020

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 …


October 15, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook: Blinded by the Light

  I have been thinking a good deal of late about first days of school. Maybe it’s because our day students are at last with us on campus, our classes are in person on the lawns and patios of the Mesa and our community is finally whole. Maybe, too, it’s because I can see in …


October 2, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook: The Ride

  In the Spring of 1975, a few months after Space Mountain opened at Disney World in Orlando, my family left our chilly denizens in New England for a few days in the company of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and the gang. Other than the roller coaster at Whalom Park, originally built in 1893 in Lunenberg, …


September 18, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook—News of the World

  I got an email this morning that began, “Here’s what is keeping me up at night …” It’s the most common opening line, actually, in my inbox, and it speaks to the remarkable and daunting dynamics we are all confronting in the world. It’s our truth. But it’s not the only truth. I read …


September 3, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook—The Way Forward

The first letter that I remember writing as Head of School at Cate was in July of 1998. I don’t recall much of what I wrote, save for a short paragraph on various back-to-school rituals I had become accustomed to over the years. Who doesn’t enjoy a pattern that we expect we can rely on? …


May 29, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Celebrations

  Just a few weeks ago, I received instructions from the County of Santa Barbara on the do’s and don’ts of “vehicular graduations.” Cars parked a certain distance apart, only family members in the vehicle, windows up, that kind of thing. I started laughing when I got to the part about not leaving the vehicle, …


May 14, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Readiness

  I came across Jorge Reynoso this morning. He was measuring our classrooms so that we can determine exactly how many students can occupy them while abiding by safe distancing guidelines. Jorge is our Director of Risk Management and Campus Operations, and he has had a busy spring. There are so many eventualities that we …


April 30, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Commencement Season

  In honor of all of the Commencement Exercises that will not happen this year—at least not in traditional form, anyway—The Atlantic magazine has invited a series of notable writers and thinkers to pen graduation speeches for the Class of 2020. The first, which appeared in this week’s issue, was written by Caitlin Flanagan, who …


April 16, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Not Alone

  Our Lincoln class is studying two documents this week that betray Lincoln’s posture towards religion. Lincoln’s faith—or lack thereof—is a much-debated topic in the present day, and it was a potential impediment to Lincoln when he was running for office. One of the texts we examine is a letter Lincoln wrote for publication in …


March 31, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Grace Comes by Art

There is a video making the rounds this week—it even made the national news programs—that was produced by a family in Great Britain. It’s a cleverly adapted rendition of One Day More from Les Misérables, performed with unusual vigor and gusto just slightly off key by every member of a family of six, the youngest, …


March 5, 2020

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. …


February 6, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — What to do?

  I’m at the annual meeting of the Headmaster’s Association as I write, an organization whose sole requirement of membership is that you show up for the annual meeting. That’s largely because the two-day gatherings are substantive and provocative. This year the program headline reads “International Flux: Instability, Conflict, Security, Alliances.” It’s certainly a timely …


January 30, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — At our best …

  We called off classes today in the wake of Gwendolyn Pierce’s passing early this morning. We had alerted students in advisory meetings on Tuesday that Ms. Pierce had entered end-of-life care, so perhaps we were all as prepared as we could be for this news. But we are never really ready. I watched as …


January 21, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Raindrops

  During the Memorial Service for Liam Mundy ’19 on Sunday, one of our seniors suggested that we are all like raindrops running down a window. As we travel, our paths converge with those of other raindrops. Often we join for a spell, and then new branches form. We always take some of the other …


January 8, 2020

Head of School’s Notebook — Peace

  On Wednesday morning, just prior to the opening of classes after the holiday break, the community gathered in Hitchcock Theater. It is the place we go, it seems, when there is something that deserves our collective attention. Sometimes it’s a concert or a speech or even periodically a hypnotist or the famed regurgitator. We …


December 3, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — My Father’s Porch

  On the porch off the kitchen at my father’s home in Connecticut is a series of birdfeeders. To sit in that kitchen on a winter morning is to be witness to a never-ending series of comings and goings. So ravenous is the local avian population that my father refills the quite substantial feeders each …


November 19, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Thanksgiving

  Around the time that this Notebook entry is published, we’ll all be sitting quietly in the Katharine Thayer Cate Memorial Chapel. Since faculty member Peter Arango began the tradition over a decade ago, we honor Thanksgiving with a Quaker meeting. 297 students and nearly 80 faculty join in complete silence until someone is compelled …


October 30, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — What is an education worth?

During a recent visit to Beijing, several of our families took us to the campus of Imperial College, a 700-year-old school that until the early 20th century was the defining educational institution in China. Formed at least in part to further the wisdom of Confucius, Imperial College was testament to the value of education in …