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Olde Reed: Was It Better?

By Lucy Bellwood '12 on June 10, 2011 04:00 PM

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It's a cry familiar to freshmen from every decade of Reed's existence: "You're doing what? Hah! Back at Olde Reed..."

Yes, it's Olde Reed! That elusive golden age in which classes were harder, Renn Fayres were crazier, laurels were shinier, and hijinks were, er, jinkier. Olde Reed was always dead by your freshman year, unless you are telling the story, in which case it was dead by your listeners' freshman year. It was epic, it was extraordinary, and it was, in whatever indescribable fashion, better.

Or was it?

50-odd alumni packed into Capehart to debate the question during Thursday's conference, "99 Years of Lamenting the Passing of the Olde Reed," as part of Centennial Reunions. The impish and bespectacled Jim Kahan '64 led the discussion, sporting an Annual Fund t-shirt bearing the slogan "I AM OLDE REED" (the shirt was designed by Joe Wasserman '09).

Kahan opened the floor by noting that Reedies have a noble history of griping about change. From the muddied steps of the first students who were forced to abandon the neat pavements of downtown and schlep though the remote farmland of (gasp!) Eastmoreland to attend class, the students have always found some glowing aspect of the past to idealize. However, rather than leaping into lamentation about the current state of things, participants were first invited to share their initial impressions of the college.

After the humorous cries of "cold," "rainy," and "chaotic" had died down, there came a more thoughtful chorus of voices who agreed that Reed had been their first experience of being among like-minded individuals. Of finding one's people. The room murmured in appreciative consent, and smiles flashed between older and younger alumni.

First impressions led to lasting ones as notable faculty, staff, and students were appreciated. Dedie Taylor '69 fondly recalled being "hounded by Dorothy Johanson," who took a motherly interest in her after discovering their shared hometown of Astoria, Oregon. "She regularly called me into her office and asked me questions. She never told me things," Taylor smiled.

Tales of the Doyle Owl inevitably surfaced, with Kahan calling for a show of hands belonging to those who had touched "the original Doyle Owl" -- and for those who thought the subsequent hand-raisers were lying. A photo album was passed around filled with images documenting the pristine bird at various points around campus, surrounded by a crowd of well-dressed young gentlemen brandishing axes, hammers, mallets, and other weapons of intimidation and destruction.

Other topics on the roster included tales of the college's earliest computers (many of them built from scrounged pinball machine mechanisms), renditions of beloved Reed cheers ("Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky! Reed's the team that's really hotsky!"), and, of course, discussion surrounding the infamous Half-Time Crucifixion.

Ultimately, the overwhelming consensus was that Reed has come a very long way and, as Kahan bluntly put it, "is a hell of a lot better." From the existence of career services to the quality of commons food and living in the dorms, there's much to appreciate about "new Reed." But the definitive improvement was called out by Ethan Scarl '61, who simply declared:

"The air is no longer filled with the scent of Brussels sprouts."

The conference drew to a close shortly thereafter among peals of laughter and applause.