Dear Dr. Todd:
We are not there yet. May never be. Because as
you taught us, “the heights” is not our destina-
tion. It is our direction, our way forward. It is
the path we travel. The heights is not a place,
we now know, but a plane, a higher plane,
an elevated state, more spiritual than mate-
rial. It is an arc bending upward, a call from
above, a summoning. And we’ve been hearing
it, following it, pursuing it for 125 years now.
So many of us. In that time, we have come to
realize that we are still on our way and always
will be. This is a good thing. We know, from
periods of success and through episodes of
failure, that it is not about getting there. It’s
about pressing on, with our eyes lifted and
our feet moving assuredly across the ground
before us. However steep or rocky or slippery
that ground may be. Onward. And upward.
We have learned from you and from others
who have embarked upon this journey before
us that the road to the top is not straight.
Cannot be. There will be obstacles along the
way. Winds will blow, rains fall. There will
be occasions when we slip and fall back. We
understand how the upward climb on a steep
trail must tack into the face of the mountain
like a sailboat must tack into the face of the
wind. The precise angles and vectors of ascent
are an alchemy synthesized from the hard
facts of physics, the improvisations of our
own imaginations, and the insistence of a
steely will.
We know the path will never be well
worn. It is, rather, like Robert Frost’s road not
taken, the “less traveled” path in the poem
he published in a collection called
in 1920. That was right about the time
you stood on a crooked path in the brush, in
the interval between the Olympics and the
Cascades and at the foot of our own great
Mountain, imagining the stately architecture
and beautiful landscape that would someday,
somehow, rise there. Did you take some
inspiration from the poet on that day? A man
To the
A letter from the university’s thirteenth president to its ninth