What is a Sentinel?

What is a Sentinel?

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a sentinel as "One that keeps guard; a sentry." That being said, this simple definition does not do justice to the spirit of the Westmont High School mascot.

After many years of trying to answer the query "What is a Sentinel?," Mr. Larry Krupicka, a retired teacher and long-time educational leader at Westmont High School, crafted an essay on the image of Westmont High School’s Sentinel and its importance in the identity we share as members of the Sentinel community. While his is just one of many perspectives on what it is to be a Sentinel, his thorough and well-informed treatment of the subject certainly warrants a thoughtful reading.

Are You a Sentinel?

It's not too difficult to guess the reasons schools often choose wild animals to be mascots. Fearsome tigers, panthers, or lions threaten many opponents when they arrive to battle the home team. Powerful depictions of these menacing figures are found in many gyms, locker rooms, and field houses because they suggest that a superior and resolute home team is itching to "get it on." Animal mascots make clear that victory, if it comes, will come only after a great struggle. Be warned! The home team may have the edge in strength, cunning and endurance. The prize will not be taken easily. If strength is not enough, patience and guile will overcome the taller, quicker and stronger aggressor.

Intimidation is certainly the reason many mascots are chosen; but what of the Westmont High School mascot? What of the Sentinels? Do we claim that our Sentinel exhibits cunning, speed, or extraordinary strength? We can insist that these qualities are found in our best athletes; after all they are exciting competitors who stir in our imaginations a sense of awe and respect. Imaginations readily conjure images of mighty life and death struggles that associate easily with opposing sides locked in mortal combat. But our visions of the survival dramas on the Serengeti may not reach the deeper significance of what it means to be a Sentinel. If opponents entering our gym are not intimated by the image in Jim Etter's mural; what is its effect? What do they see? What do we see?

In the heat of battle, Westmont High School students cheer in unison that they are the Sentinels. The rallying cry announces their solidarity and resolve. Cheers are loud and enthusiastic declarations of confidence in victory that we know to be at hand if we stick together and fight hard to the end. Both sides of the gym will erupt when the struggle intensifies and the outcome appears momentarily uncertain. At such moments a combatant's determination to secure victory, it seems, can be declared under any banner whether it is a Lion or a Sentinel. The standard we raise to stir our hearts seems less important than the act of raising our banner in the first place.

Mascots are convenient symbols of loyalty and support taken into battle with the idea of overcoming the enemy; winning is the only goal. When it comes to mascots, will any image suffice? When they are the Lions and their opponents are Tigers, one beast is as good as any other. But "We are the Sentinels!" No animal attributes here. Where is the punch needed for an inspirational rallying cry? Sentinels are not soldiers. An appeal to the "Fighting Sentinels" seems to be an oxymoron without poetic justification. A Sentinel is a sentry, not a combatant. To be a Sentinel is to be vigilant and implies the ability to be circumspect, to take note, and to miss not even the slightest movement or the faintest of sounds. Sentinels are listeners who focus without distraction. They are keen observers who wait on what they see and listen attentively, straining to identify the threats that may attend. They know well the climate of expectancy with the possibility of both peril and hope. To be a Sentinel implies the ability to know how, in Prospero's words from Shakespeare's The Tempest, "the minute bids thee ope thine ear." The stakes are high and good judgment, not chance, must prevail throughout the watch; whether things go well or ill. A Sentinel is always vigilant, in good weather and foul. His weapon is attention more than the bayonet or the musket.

Taken together the qualities of a good Sentinel transcend the strength of a warrior. A Sentinel's attentiveness is not for battle but to prevent surprise or betrayal. His watchfulness is a light; a light, it can be argued, by which others can see. The true Sentinel approaches us with eyes which we sense will detect the secret or threat that an enemy may wish to conceal. Our Sentinel's eyes are wide open, not like the eyes of Polonius in Hamlet, who, hidden behind the drapery is seized by inaction, but rather like the eyes of Legolas in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, whose eyes have become lamps so that others might see. These are the eyes of' someone who eschews inaction and, unlike Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov, does not vacate the premises to "see what will happen". The eyes of the true Sentinel are conspicuously engaged in the unfolding of present events. He is no stoic. Our cause is his cause. He is there to risk everything.

I do not know what Mrs. Camille Kostner had in mind when she proposed the Sentinel as the mascot for the new high school in 1976. These meanings suggest that there may be more in her proposal than athletic victory or a Bicentennial celebration. There was certainly something missing in the first, colorful five-fingered caricature of a fighting Sentinel; the pipe and the walk were intentionally a bit comical and not intended to be taken too seriously. A now covered gray scale Sentinel that once could be seen in principal's office came a bit closer to capturing the ideal Sentinel; but the eyes of the new age centurion were not lamps and appeared dimmed by a preoccupation bordering on otiosity. The inward gaze of that androgynous Sentinel was neither watchful nor enlightened. Jim Etter's mural on the West wall of the gym may come closest to capturing the essence of dutiful steadfastness. His Sentinel assumes a protective stance on high ground denoting that there is something of value to maintain. No threat, from within or in the distance, will go unchallenged. This Sentinel is to be taken seriously.

Perhaps the WHS mascot is best understood as a token of our opportunity, not for victory, but to do the right things; to be taken seriously; to make the right choices; and to be ever watchful for our good and the good of others. The Sentinel attends as did Dante after his encounter with Beatrice; more watchful having had the experience of something without. In this context the question of significance rests on the Sentinel's ability to detect meaning in both what is unseen and what is beyond hearing. Dante carried the significance of his chance encounter throughout his fateful journey.

Knowing what needs to be paid attention to and what must be ignored gives a Sentinel's eyes their power in our presence. He sees what lies before and beyond. He knows from experience that images and sounds often need to be disconnected from the emotions they arouse if their true meanings are to be apprehended. Like words properly understood, what the Sentinel detects must be connected to meanings beyond those present at the moment of detection. The Sentinel's perspective sounds no false alarms and is a steadfast inner strength that will not falter. It is the advantage the enemy fears most. It makes it possible for him to dismiss the enemy's most clever deceptions and see through his persistent dissembling. When the opponent enters our gym he should know that we are not easily holed. The smart take from the strong.

In what sense are we Sentinels? We cannot understand the world if the words we use are given only shifting and ambiguous connotations. When others do so, they would deprive our eyes of true vision and our ears of real discernment. They would that we have knowledge without understanding. Yet to make sense of the world our observations cannot be held in abeyance awaiting validation by agreement. To do so would be to abrogate the duty of our post. It is for others less vigilant to be deceived by what they see and hear. A Sentinel must know when true danger approaches; much depends on it. Readiness is the goal of our education. All will be lost without it.

Who are the Sentinels? They may include our best athletes and our best students, but they may also include some who may have gone unnoticed. Look around! Who among us has helped you see more clearly and hear more acutely, without distraction? If you have known such a person, and felt your powers of detection increase, perhaps yon can claim that you have what it takes to be a Sentinel. "The minute bids thee ope thine ear."


Larry Krupicka

Revised 5/26/04