What’s In A Word?

Dear Gateway families,

Welcome to the 2020-21 school year — a year that promises to be unlike any other that we have ever experienced. 

One lesson from the past six months is that we have far less control over certain aspects of life than we would wish to believe. Like a character traversing the shifting terrain in Lewis Carroll’s classic texts Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and Through the Looking Glass, the illusion of certainty about the realm in which we live has been stripped away as the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have collided with a rising movement to confront society’s structural racism and the systemic oppression of Black & Indigenous people.

As if to reinforce this lesson, just as we were about to begin our academic year last week, a devastating fire began tearing through our community, destroying the homes of some families and staff, and causing the widespread displacement of many others. While I rejoice that everyone in the Gateway community is physically safe, my heart is breaking with the hurt and suffering of so many of our loved ones.

For some, the past six months have been an extremely fertile time to learn the meaning of words and concepts such as Black Lives Matters, white fragility, and anti-racism, while minds have been opened to the diverse realities and perspectives experienced by individuals across this country. Indeed, when Alice is able to get the better of her fears, she finds that her experience down the rabbit hole is a wonderful education.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

In the last few weeks, I have found myself thinking about how much meaning and power words contain. I’ve rediscovered the word equanimity and found comfort in the idea of calmness and composure in the face of a difficult situation. I’ve dwelled on the old chestnut resilience when thinking about our unending efforts to open this school year while navigating a situation in which we have had far less control than usual. And I’ve returned repeatedly to compassion, and the need to go beyond mere empathy to the place of taking action to relieve the suffering of others, as we think about those suffering in our community now, and from the racialized violence in Wisconsin this week, and in many other places across this country.

Every day our children learn new words. We have a great opportunity not only in the language we teach them, but also in how we model the ideals and qualities of integrity and character that we hope they grow to embody.

Last year, our community talked a great deal about inclusion and impact. This year, I propose flexibility, curiosity, and agency as the key ideals that will give us strength through the unfolding future. These ideas, and others, will be essential as we join together to support our community members through the tragedy of these wildfires, support our children as they navigate this unique school year, and support our teachers as they do everything they can to ensure that our students flourish and our program thrives.

I look forward to sharing this year’s journey with you; as the Cheshire Cat pointed out, “Every adventure requires a first step.”


Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School