“The Road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can, pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Over the past decade a number of good friends from my years at Wheaton College in Illinois have moved to Laguna Beach. We call this place The Shire because it is so ridiculously idyllic. I look forward to returning from adventures and travel to home.
Wheaton College houses the collected papers and many artifacts of authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. My college roommate, Mark Metherell, grew up in Laguna Beach. He was huge fan of Tolkien’s writings and when my son, Schuyler, was born he gave him a beautifully bound copy of “The Hobbit.” He inscribed inside the front cover: “Nothing makes a Dad more happy than to read to his son. I chose this story because it is about an adventure, and I hope that you and your Dad will have many adventures together…I hope to see you out in the lineup soon!”
Many of us in Laguna Beach are affiliated with adventure brands and lifestyle that we export around the world. The roads that go out from our doors take us to amazing places and new experiences that enrich our community when we bring them back. They change us, our relationships and impact our culture.
Last weekend I picked up our younger son, Willem from a summer design program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. It had been a hot summer in the city and a dramatically different set of experiences than the Pacific-cooled beaches here in Southern California.
As we were leaving Pratt and heading to the airport, I was expecting him to be excited to get home to summer surf and his old friends. I asked him, “So are you ready to get back to Laguna?”
Willem’s response surprised me. He said, “I’m going to miss Brooklyn.” I asked him why, and he said, “Because kids can do things in Brooklyn. The school and the city aren’t designed to lock you up.”
Brooklyn, a place with real big city problems, and Pratt Institute, one of the best art and design schools in the country, have figured out how to manage high school kids living on an urban campus without early evening curfews or an antagonistic relationship. They have figured out how to encourage creativity and adventure in talented kids through great incentives to do the right things rather than reacting to bad decision-making when kids are left with few options.
The school board, at the behest of a surprisingly large number of parents, are working out changes in administrators who seemed to have lost the students’ interests in pursuit of hiring friends that were not capable of the work at hand. We should look at replacing administrators who believe their job is to antagonize students, lobby the city for invented epidemics and unnecessarily harass students with police raids on campus. Our schools need administrators and educators that exist to help our students find and develop their interests and passions here and beyond. Passionate students are too busy doing the right things to pursue bad behaviors.
Our city and school lack a compelling vision and strategy that establishes our shared community values and where we invest for the future. We have no serious art programs for our youth. We are focused more on shutting down adventure for kids than opening it up.
These are our primary assets: real estate, artists and adventurers. The industry in this town depends on infrastructure that supports community development, it requires artistic movements to attract the attention of the world again and the global brands created and exported from here need to be free to generate adventures at home.
We are on a road together, but we will be lost if we don’t know where we are going. If Brooklyn can become a dominant cultural force given their obstacles, what is wrong with us? We have the raw materials. We need to focus and invest in what makes us uniquely great.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected]