The Stones were singing. The Rolling Stones, I mean. And they were turned up
pretty loud on my rental car radio. It was "Ruby Tuesday." I was making the
soft turn on the Schuster Parkway just past the big grain elevator, coming
out of Old Town and headed toward I-5 when, boom, there it was, right on my
windshield: The Mountain. It was too big to be real and, it seemed, right
there in the front seat with me.
Peeking out of the mist as the sun seemed to set its snowy peaks on fire, it
looked like a giant movie on a screen the size of the sky, stretching across
the horizon. I took a sudden breath at the surprise of it. Gathering myself,
I made the turn after Stadium Way and got a glimpse of the new Tacoma Art
Museum silhouetted against the vast, looming whiteness, then the shape of
the great silver cone of the Museum of Glass, the jumbled blue cubes on the
Bridge of Glass, the elegant architecture of the 509 bridge. "Catch your
dreams before they slip away," Mick Jagger sang as I veered right, this time
to join the I-5 traffic headed north for the airport.
That was almost exactly seven years ago, and I had just made my first visit
to Puget Sound, spending the afternoon gathering intelligence around the
campus, the neighborhood, the downtown. I hadn't yet interviewed for the
job, but I already knew that if I were lucky enough to get the offer, I'd
take it. This was perfect: a breathtaking natural landscape, a city on the
rise, rich in cultural resources, with some great things happening on this
charming, inviting residential campus, already beautiful but like a jewel
still in the ground, ready to be cut and polished in order to realize its
potential. A real ruby in the rough.
Turns out I got the job and, after seven years, I think I got the place
basically right, too. It's amazing, and getting better all the time. That's
as true about our campus as it is about the city in which we live. And
that's why, for the second time, we've dedicated an issue of Arches to the
things we love about Tacoma--from the magnificence of our landscape, our
institutions, and our people to the quirkiness of some of our more hidden
I've got my own list of personal favorites--receiving a welcome greeting from
a harbor seal during my first sail on the Sound with Professor Alan
Thorndike in his wooden-hulled sailboat; cutting the ribbon for our
inspiring new Science Center, the campus' first green building; spending a
Christmas holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia with our Pac Rim students and
faculty; spotting my first pod of orcas charging up Colvos Passage in
perfect formation; watching a newly hatched bald eagle screaming in
excitement (and fear) as it tentatively spread its massive wings and lifted
from its mile-high nest and floated effortlessly over the waves.
What I intuited but didn't yet know when I got here was how deeply
connected Tacoma and Puget Sound have always been. I knew it was the
citizens of Tacoma whose determination and generosity made sure that a great
university of the Pacific Northwest would be located in the City of Destiny
more than a century ago. But I soon learned some other things. Like the fact
that the Tacoma Art Museum began in our art department right here on campus
75 years ago. And that the Tacoma Symphony was born out of Puget Sound's
School of Music and was originally conducted by our faculty. One of our
former presidents and a former student came up with the big idea of
establishing the world's foremost museum of glass in Tacoma's downtown. An
alumnus would become one of the city's civil rights leaders, founder and
first director of the Tacoma Urban League. Another graduate (and former
faculty member) would be one of our most successful mayors, leading the city
during an important period of renaissance, when Tacoma would be named among
America's most livable cities.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, a few manifestations of the real
magic of this place: the effectiveness with which our faculty carry out the
mission of inspiring people first to learn important things and then to go
on to do great things. I know of no other place where the faculty are so
single-minded in their devotion to this mission, and where the evidence of
it is so clear. Ask almost any student or graduate (I do, all the time) what
they love about Puget Sound. Often topping the list will be a story about a
professor who made someone think about things in a new way, or a class that
opened up a whole new area of interest, or a faculty mentor who helped a
student navigate the struggling years of graduate school or a new career.
Wish I had a nickel for every time I've heard one of them say about a
professor, "He is amazing," or "She is just phenomenal."
You can't see that in The Mountain at first glimpse, or in Commencement Bay,
or in the bald eagle lifting off from its nest and diving into the Sound.
But our faculty are the real crown jewels, the magic ruby slippers of this
place. Nothing rough-cut about them. This is a place where, as the Stones
sing in another song, you not only "get what you want" or even "what you
need." You get a whole lot more.