from the president

Currents

I am haunted by waters.”

This phrase from one of my favorite books, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, haunts me. Growing up at the ocean’s edge, the ebb and flow of tides always has both consoled and inspired me. I am drawn by the rhythm of waves, rising, cresting, breaking, and then rising again. I am never more alive than when I am immersed in one of them, surrounded in the foam, its bitter taste on my tongue and its brine stinging my eyes, hurtling toward the shore. 

“I am haunted by waters.”

The phrase occurs to me each year at commencement, as I look out on a sea of new graduates about to begin their own voyages out. There in the bowl of Baker Stadium, they resemble a great wave cresting, about to break and rush to unknown shores. And as they leave Puget Sound, just as suddenly as they arrived, the Sound runs through them.

This water—this Puget Sound—lends us its name. It is known for its strong currents, said to be among the most powerful on the planet. Twice every day, with tides responding to gravity’s tug from the sun and moon, a flood of seawater washes in and out of the Sound from the North Pacific. It flows through innumerable straits and channels, swirling around islands and coastlines. In a strong tide, the volume of water rushing through The Narrows near Point Defiance alone, right here at the north end of our own Commencement Bay, is twice that of the world’s largest river—the mighty Amazon—and double its power.

These currents, often hastened by swirling winds, bring in and restore a rich variety of marine life to Puget Sound, replenishing its oxygen and stirring up a caldron of flora and fauna that is unique in the world.

For 120 years now, the students of Puget Sound also have flowed into campus with a tide of energy and vitality. While they are here, they generate the currents that give this place its distinct shape and meaning, and like the swirling, churning, living Sound from which we draw our name, they keep us alive and keep making us new.  

I am haunted by them, these children of the water, as they come and go each year. And blessed by them. Like a great wave they propel us on our journey as they shape the history of this place and the other shores to which they flow. And the Sound runs through us all.

This column was inspired by the foreword President Thomas wrote for the 50th anniversary edition of Crosscurrents, the Puget Sound student literary and art magazine.