Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions Reed Culture & Traditions

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Reed Culture & Traditions

All Things Fayre and Fowl

In the final days of spring semester 1961, a simple ditto sheet appeared in student mailboxes. It proposed a gathering of seniors on the day the thesis was due and a collective parade from the library to the registrar’s office, instead of exhausted and rumpled students straggling to Eliot Hall one at a time. Dressed in everyday clothes and carrying an eclectic mix of instruments, the seniors crossed the forty yards or so together, breaking into unrehearsed tunes, and watched by a growing crowd of curious underclassmen. Their joy was infectious. Priscilla Laws ’61 and Larry Millstein ’61 note that the dean of students, Ann Shepard, had tears in her eyes when she greeted them in the hallway, saying over and over again, “this is wonderful . . . I never thought I’d see Reed students doing something like this in an organized group.”

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Traditions support, animate, and explain Reed’s culture. While students are known to shun ceremony, while they are recognized for an independence of thought and action, while they are clear in their preference for self-governance by an honor principle over institutional regulation, they are also legendary for their homemade instruments, their inventive recreational activities, and their membership in a genuine intellectual community.

Many traditions at Reed, like thesis parade and Hum Play, emerge in close proximity to the curriculum. Others begin with a playful sense of humor, as in the case of the strange artifacts—a giant hamster wheel, a couch swing—that sometimes materialize overnight in the student union. And they usually require a creative leap: the quest for the Doyle Owl, the invention of the board game Empire, the tossing of firebrands, the publication of a literary magazine. In all cases they are examples of the fellowship of Reed.

Much has changed at Reed in the last century. The college that began as a radical experiment has transformed into a nonconforming traditionalist. The Reed campus reflects a hundred years of distinct periods of architectural design—from Elizabethan Tudor to midcentury modern. Even the history of Reed’s academic program—widely known for its long-standing humanities core curriculum—includes the rise, reign, and fall of calligraphy and a brief exploration of black studies. Reed traditions also come and go. An annual outing on the Columbia River for students, faculty members, and trustees called “River Day” lasted for 30 years, vanishing in 1940. Reed's well-loved Canyon Day, which today signals the protection and restoration of a critical part of the Crystal Springs Creek, began in 1920 as an almost indistinguishable companion to Campus Day; both were campus community work parties held to tear down old fences, remove stumps, and, once, carry a shed from the old Ladd farm half a mile through the muddy fields to place it at the edge of the lake, where it became the boathouse. Folk dancing, once the height of popularity, is glimpsed less often than a game of prom dress rugby on the Great Lawn, and the Maypole is less evident than the colors of Holi.

At Reed, there is a saying: If it happens once, it’s a tradition. This may be a whimsical exaggeration, but like the Doyle Owl, Reed’s traditions weave a thread of coherence through the generations, instructing and explaining, and binding a community.

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Reed Culture & Traditions