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In Fly Fishing As in Life

Monday, September 25, 2017

Over the summer, Jennifer and I nostalgically returned to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, site of our introductory visit to the west back in 1989.  We went on long hikes, attended a rodeo and marveled at the beauty of the Tetons.  And, we took a fly-casting lesson. I had been a novice fly fisher in Colorado and set aside the pursuit in deference to time with our children.  What better way to return to one of my favorite activities than to invite my spouse to join me!

As I was working to recover whatever flawed technique I previously employed, I was struck by the intersection of this cerebral pursuit – fly fishing, and our school theme this year – aspire.  As you well know, Waterford’s mission is remarkably aspirational, as we strive to develop in each student an appetite for “a lifetime of learning.”

Fly fishing “favors the patient and resilient.” In fly fishing as in life, there is no substitute for hard work and perseverance. Like the Waterford student, fly fishers must master their craft, in study, and in practice.  Waterford students, devote countless hours to move from the abstraction of the classroom to the applied  experience of papers, presentation and performance.  As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”  The angler selects the right gear, researches the best stream, considers the weather and insect hatches. In the spirit of the liberal arts tradition, Waterford students are exposed to a wide variety of experiences, courses, texts, teaching methodologies and viewpoints as they develop into independent, self-reliant, life-long learners.

Fly fishers get their clothes wet and hands dirty.  They must enthusiastically leave the shore, wade fully into the water, throw caution to the wind, jump into the shallows and follow the fish. Borne from both the depth and breadth of the Waterford experience, and high expectations, our exceptional faculty imbue in our students a deep confidence that inspires courageous drive to push beyond self-imposed limitations. Risk accompanies the pursuit of success, and as our mission urges, our students strive for an ideal of full commitment to direct hopes and ambitions toward future achievement knowing that the next cast might find the fish that rises. There is an understated beauty in fly-fishing.  It lifts the spirit, broadens perspective, and reinforces, time and again that we must all continually feather our line out into the river to realize that aspiration of what might be possible with the next cast.  As stated in our mission, Waterford’s ambitious purpose endeavors to help students understand that “there is no end to learning, nor is it itself an end.  Rather, learning is the means by which mankind acquires the nobility of a well-lived life.”  This enduring ideal leads to a life of boundless opportunity and fulfillment.

While a seasoned fly fisher would likely offer dozens of additional metaphors, “aspire” captures well our devotion to the liberal arts experience and the forward lean that animates our work.