Reflecting on Crucible Moments

By Scott Craig   |   May 21, 2024
President Gayle D. Beebe (photo by Brad EIlliott)

It seems there’s no more difficult job these days than the college president. Not only have college campuses become battlegrounds for protestors of the Israel-Hamas War, but the value of higher education has come under fire. To be successful, they must inspire faculty, staff, students, and other constituencies, while upholding the ideals of the academy. They continually face stress-inducing events, which may become life-altering, transforming crucibles. President Gayle D. Beebe shares the crucibles that have defined his personal and professional life and leadership in a new book, The Crucibles That Shape Us: Navigating the Defining Challenges of Leadership.

The Crucibles That Shape Us

Beebe, who has faced several crucibles forged by natural disaster, was 500 days into his Westmont presidency when the Tea Fire claimed eight buildings on campus and 15 faculty homes in November 2008. Nine years later, the Thomas Fire and deadly Montecito debris flow presented additional unforeseen challenges. 

“Though every leader faces enormous challenges that require response, it’s still difficult to anticipate the severity of unfolding events and the length of time it will take to resolve them,” Beebe writes. “Each situation demands a vision that exceeds inconvenience and a commitment to strategies and tactics that help us persevere.”

In the book, Beebe identifies seven crucibles that, when embraced, shape us on our profound journey. Each chapter of the book delves into a crucible that Beebe has personally faced and intimately understands. As a seasoned college president, Beebe brings a unique perspective to the table, blending academic expertise with heartfelt storytelling to create a book that’s both intellectually stimulating and deeply inspiring.

“Life is a perpetual gauntlet with challenge on one side and opportunity on the other,” he says. “We often overlook so many experiences of our everyday life that offer us an opportunity to identify deeper understanding and a better response as we navigate the defining challenges [of life] and leadership. Crucibles have the power to shape us by refining our character, calling forth our best effort, and teaching us to rely on God. Rarely, if ever anticipated, crucibles test our capacity to adapt and change. We often see setbacks and disasters as events that keep us from our best life. They’re really opportunities to grow in leadership.” 

David Brooks, the New York Times bestselling author and an annual speaker at Westmont’s Lead Where You Stand Conference, wrote the foreword and says he was struck by a scene in the book where Beebe has a premonition to return home moments before the Montecito mudslides. “This kind of knowledge is held mostly unconsciously, but it is built up consciously,” Brooks writes. “It is the accumulation of a life spent reading, observing, and reflecting. It is knowledge transmogrified into wisdom. I once came across a recipe for a Chinese dish that instructed the cook to add an ingredient just before the water was about to boil. How do you know if the water is about to boil if it is not yet boiling? Experience. Wisdom.”


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