By Vince Durnan, Director
Greetings from Seattle, where I’m on assignment doing some alumni travel now that public health conditions permit. There’s something about traversing time zones that always prompts thoughts that might otherwise have been buried in familiar daily routines. Color me guilty of being lost in those patterns for months — so much so that it has been a while since generating one of these columns. Here goes an attempt to remedy things and catch up:
Maybe my newsletter hiatus resulted from becoming an unwitting one-trick pony — writing so persistently about our COVID-19 plans and rationale at the expense of all else. It’s not easy to remember when it wasn’t Topic One. And now we’re squinting a little, adjusting to the light that’s finally dawning over those hills, having rolled up our sleeves, as it were, and done what was needed to get here. Resisting the temptation to enumerate the predictable litany of lessons learned, and realizing that the sand is running out on my USN hourglass, permit me to choose another direction.
My current thinking probably stems from being at the junction of welcoming 130+ new students and their families to our school community, while simultaneously attending to a basket of searches for new faculty and staff colleagues. In conversations connected to those defining and crucial processes, it’s hard not to think of what the best metaphor might be for USN. Parenthetically, I hereby confess to being constitutionally drawn to any foray into symbolic language, as has been observed frequently and deservedly over the years.
With that prologue, here’s what has been resonating for me of late. Maybe it’s the partisan times, or the shrill tone of the preponderance of public discourse, or the baseline uncertainty so palpable in our city (and beyond), but the notion of USN as a sanctuary has never been so prevalent in my experience. There’s something deep and moving in serving that sanctuary purpose, to be sure, and practically, contemporarily speaking, it guarantees plenty of interest in being here, plenty of work for us to do. And of course welcoming those who might otherwise have felt less than welcome elsewhere has been core to our identity for decades.
But being a sanctuary invokes the corresponding risk of being a bubble, of standing at a distance from the pressing questions of our day. Our relationship with the bubble at USN has always been complex. At the risk of offering what might be an underwhelming alternative option, my suggestion would be USN as a ship in transit. Not a train on a straight track, not a plane flying above the clouds, but a vessel on a changing sea, sometimes buffeted by the elements, other times on a placid expanse, taking those aboard to a destination they might otherwise have never reached — maybe one never definitively envisioned.
So go with me on this one. Imagine the care and competence required to plan the voyage and take care of the ship, to go beyond the bubble. Imagine all the different tasks required of the crew. Imagine the power of discoveries made en route. Think of the changes in perspective provided by the journey for those aboard, of what would have happened if we had never decided to sign on in the first place.
Continuing with the metaphor, it strikes me that for the past two years we’ve been hunkered down, waiting for the storm to blow through, sheltering in the safety of our version of dry land. And now we’re getting back out there on the waves, remembering routines and the teamwork that predicts success along the way. The potential of what’s up ahead has drawn some remarkable people our way, even with others finishing their tours, and the ship looks to be in great working order.
If and when we get this right, we can go farther, faster, and learn more than others who lack the capacity or the courage to combine what we know and what we don’t. Maybe that’s why we’re still here. It strikes me that revisiting USN’s purpose will be an important exercise in the months of transition ahead, reminding us of the singular potential of this school community. I’ll be busy in the next few months doing what I can to leave us ready to map out where we go next. Take a moment, as springtime activities move into full swing, to think about all that might be possible when we each do our part.
Thanks for reading as I knock off the rust,