from the president

Originals

We Northwesterners are an independent bunch. A little hard to figure. We’re not too fond of formality or routine or the expected. Neckties don’t rate high on our fashion list. We’re conservative on some things, liberal on others, libertarian when we want to be. Some might say we’re contrarians: I like “independent” better. We’d rather blaze our own trail than follow the one laid out before us. After all, we draw upon a tradition of pioneers—people in Conestoga wagons who ventured west to settle the frontier; enterprising immigrants who came across the sea to forge a new kind of life in a new world.

We like to think of ourselves as originals. And we are.

That’s true in spades of Puget Sound people. Our students, our faculty and staff, our alumni. We just do things in different ways here, and the stories in this magazine tell that tale all the time. Take a look at the features in recent  issues—some of our favorite stories. From David LeSourd coming across the continent to establish this university in the wilds of Tacoma in the 1880s, all the way from a small town in Indiana by way of Atlanta, where he fought beside General Sherman in the Civil War. Flash forward to two years ago when four Puget Sound guys who met on the crew team decided they wanted a bigger challenge. So they rowed their boat all the way across the Atlantic to be the first Americans to do it, returning the compliment to those Mayflower pilgrims who came the other way some three hundred years before—and our guys did it without a sail.

It’s a tradition here—being untraditional. It’s why one of our graduates argued a case in the U.S. Supreme Court against the government on behalf of the Constitution—and won. It’s why we were recently ranked as the number one small university producing Peace Corps volunteers and are always up there at the top of that list. It’s why our faculty created the first undergraduate international political economy program in the country and then wrote the textbook for it when they couldn’t find one good enough.  

Where does this tradition of originality come from? T.S. Eliot, one of America’s most original poets and one of our most traditional, said that the two qualities are inseparable. The most individual writers—the most original and modern—said Eliot, possess the greatest sense of the past and of their place in it. The truly original writer is the one who lives not merely in the present but lives with an appreciation of how the ghosts of the past live on in the present moment and help create our experience of it.

Which brings me to that Hatchet. I’ve never seen the real thing. But what I know about it makes it a perfect symbol for Puget Sound: It connects our present (and our future) with our past. Not just because of the marks that have been carved on it over the years but by its very nature and history. Story goes that students found The Hatchet in 1908 in an old barn they were helping to demolish to make room for a new campus building. It was not just any hatchet. It was an old roofer’s hatchet. Those students intuitively recognized the thing as a sacred Logger relic, symbolic of their school. A hatchet is a small ax, useful in trailblazing and log hewing to be sure. But this hatchet was a special kind, designed to meld the past and the future by shaping things as well as by joining them.

A tradition of originality still drives us every day and guides our plans for the future: that sense of the living presence of our past, that determination to never rest upon what has already been done but to build something upon it—make it new, different, better.

Chop, chop, hack, hack, and make it better. To me, that’s Puget Sound.