Westmont Magazine Unlocking the Code of Our Mysterious History
By President Stan D. Gaede ’69
As you know, we are now not only experiencing the Da Vinci Code in written form, but on the screen as well. It’s something of a phenomenon, this particular piece of fiction. And I’ll resist the urge to give my assessment. Besides, there is no need. Bruce Fisk has already done that, rather thoughtfully and artfully, in the pages that follow. Always best to let cooler heads prevail.
Nevertheless, the whole business of discerning history is something that fascinates me. Always has. You’ll find it in my scholarship, such as it is, almost from day one. But it occupies my personal reflections a good deal of the time as well. And maybe that’s especially the case at a time such as this. As Judy and I once again depart this school that we love. This is a moment of reflection for us. Of looking back. And giving thanks. But also discerning, in the process, what we ought to learn.
And the question is, what do we learn from Westmont’s history? And how should it inform our work in the days to come? Sad to say, that wasn’t the question that I much entertained when I was a student at Westmont in the late ’60s. I studied history, to be sure. Loved it, in fact. But I took Westmont’s historical journey for granted. Given the beauty of its location and the obvious fit with its mission, I rather blithely assumed it was just “a natural.” Something that clearly made sense, from day one.
In retrospect, we know now that the “natural” had almost nothing to do with it. Westmont’s appearance in Montecito was a default location made possible only by some very frustrating “Nos” and one amazing “Yes.” Indeed, it was a series of frustrations that brought Westmont to Santa Barbara. Plus, a major miracle.
Indeed, there is really only one thing that was known in the beginning, upon which everything else rested. And, it turns out, this one thing is the code that unlocks its mysterious history. Christ. Who holds all things together. The first and the last. The foundation for this liberal arts college. And the teleology, the end, to which we do our work. On that, our founders all agreed. Ruth Kerr, the visionary. Wallace Emerson, the president. And trustees, faculty, staff and students thereafter.
And circumstantially, the whole thing should have come to naught. At almost every step of the way, there were location problems, resource problems and people problems. In fact, if you really get deep into the history of Westmont, the only question is: how did it survive? Not, how did it become one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the nation, nestled in the hills of Montecito, overlooking the Pacific Ocean? That question — based upon circumstances — isn’t available. Too much to ask for. Too far beyond reason to even imagine possible.
But imagine, our founders did. And pray, they did, as well. Which is why — as they tried to figure out how to pay the faculty for one more week, much less a year — they also forged ahead. Not knowing where in the world the Lord was taking them. But not doubting that He was the one taking them there. And not doubting, as well, that it would be worth it. That it would be good. Very good, indeed.
Which it was, of course. As we now know. And which takes us to this present moment in Westmont’s history. Once again, we have dreams that we shouldn’t have, based upon present circumstances. And once again, we haven’t any idea how we’re going to get there, given the realities of life. But if our history shows us anything, it tells us this: circumstances don’t matter. Indeed, present realities are not the reality at all. Only one thing matters: Christ. Preeminent in all things. The Shepherd who never loses His sheep. The Warrior who never loses a battle. The Master Planner whose plans are beyond belief. Beyond our wildest imagination.
What does the future hold for Westmont College? God only knows. And isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard in your life?