The transmissions came from the sky. They were rebroadcast from a recording made by a radio station in Riverhead, N.Y., and carried by NBC across the country. "Listen now," the announcer said, "for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new."
Ears glued to speakers, panic and fear and wonder and awe like there hadn't been since Orson Welles' Martians invaded New Jersey. Then, from somewhere in outer space: beep…beep…beep…
It was an October night 50 years ago that the sounds were first heard stateside. They came from a polished metal sphere the size of a beach ball, hurtling in orbit around the Earth at 18,000 mph, writing a new chapter in history and adding a word to the American vocabulary: sputnik.
Along with its beeps and cheerfully winking lights, the satellite transmitted another message: calling U.S. educators to action. More scientists and engineers were now needed. (Sound familiar?) Yes, American cars had bigger tailfins, but the Soviets had put the first satellite in orbit.
My father was one of the young men who heard the call. A boy from small-town Nebraska, he completed two years at the local college and then headed for school in Chicagoland, intent on becoming an engineer. Before too long, though, he realized that despite the zeitgeist, his calling was to the classroom. Within a few years he found himself teaching high school mathematics and mentoring the student council—which he did with a passion, for 30 years. He would travel to college graduation ceremonies of high-schoolers he'd worked with, taking profound joy in their accomplishments. He called these students My Kids—as if his five offspring in the house weren't enough.
I couldn't tell you how many times I've heard the phrase, "teaching is a calling." Sometimes it's uttered with a sense of warning: that unless you feel compelled to do it, don't. Conversely, if you feel the pull, nothing will be as rewarding.
Unlike an eighth-grade social studies kit, whose mechanisms once advised me to pursue a career as a mushroom inspector, this issue of SCM doesn't contain any charts or wheels for assessing how to find your calling in life. It does, however, offer some rich perspectives on how students and alumni from Santa Clara, as well as universities across the country, are grappling (or failing to grapple) with the meaning of vocation—whether that's a calling to the priesthood or the California Highway Patrol, moviemaking or lawyering, motherhood or robotics.
Keep the faith,
Steven Boyd Saum