Head of School’s Notebook

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 …


October 25, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — May My Ashes …

“May my ashes, when you have them, friend, and give them to the ocean leap in the froth of the waves, still loving the moment,” These are lines from Mary Oliver’s Prayer that a Cate senior read this week in the chapel, to preface a talk she gave on the journey that took her to …


October 11, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Perspective

I love Westerns. I always have. Lonesome Dove totally captivated me when I read it as a teenager. It was the only book—besides Where the Red Fern Grows—that had me in tears by the end. Something about the relationship between Gus and Woodrow struck a chord with me. So when Jay Dorion gave me a …


September 27, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Voice

I visited a senior English class recently, where the students were gathering feedback on personal essays by reading them aloud. Their teacher had given them a host of potential prompts the day before, all of which had been gathered from various college applications. One student wrote about the game of soccer, and its impact on …


September 13, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Cold, Wet, and Content

Around 3 p.m. on Thursday, September 5, I was beginning with my pod of about 14 juniors to prepare a massive pot of chili for the entire junior class and 15 or so faculty who were just completing the 20+ mile trek into the Kern River Valley. The day had begun with rain and the …


August 30, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Where to from here?

I read a Frank Bruni editorial in the New York Times recently entitled, “The Surprising Path that Some Kids take to the Ivy League.” It isn’t about money or privilege or scandal. It’s just about remarkable kids and the life journey that somehow lands them in a well-known college. It’s pretty inspiring, as great human …


May 17, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Inquiry Question

We held our annual Inquiry Day last Monday, during which fifteen seniors presented anywhere from a trimester to a year’s worth of work on projects of their own design. Their guiding questions tell us a good deal about the scale of their ambition: What is race? Can we stop aging? Who lives outside of nation …


May 3, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Last Times

Back in August of 2009, my daughter went to the annual Cate square dance. She was beginning her senior year and she and many of her friends were determined to make it a great Ho-down!  She returned bereft. “What’s wrong?” I asked. The dance seemed great to me, but Grace was clearly in distress. “Dad,” …


April 16, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — No Problem

We held our second set of community conversations this week.  In lieu of convocation we met in groups of eight to share a meal and a story (no more than three minutes long) that guides us in our lives.  There were several compelling ones in my group: stories about life without the internet (it is …


April 5, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Finding Our Place

I was talking with one of our seniors this week about the things he has learned at Cate in his four years. The young man is currently trying to decide where he will go next. Pretty much every school to which he applied wants him, and with good reason. He is brilliant and kind, generous …


March 22, 2019

Head of School’s Notebook — Good News

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life the idea of sitting down with the newspaper became really enticing.  I was a pretty normal kid (or so I thought) which means I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the world when I was growing up.  And then suddenly …