Canyon Day, Campus Day, long may it wave

By Patti MacRae '71

Campus Day, June 8, 1912. A solemn assembly gathered to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of Reed's first dormitory. The Arts Building and chapel were under construction, and the 50 original students and six faculty members were no doubt beaming at the realization that next fall they would have a real home.

Among the speakers that day was one William H. Boddy '15, a member of the student body council and clearly a man with a passion for speech-making. "Time," he expounded, "with its mysterious power will make sacred customs of some of our common practices, yes, and of some of our fun and foibles. Ours is the solemn obligation that there shall be traditions, noble and inspiring."

No actual work was carried out on the first Campus Day other than the genteel lifting of a ceremonial shovel. But either the words of Mr. Boddy or the general feeling of enthusiasm that marked the occasion had its influence, because the cornerstone of Reed's first and most lasting tradition was also laid on that day.

The following year, on Tuesday, April 15, 1913, the entire college shed its neckties and books to accomplish such rigorous tasks as tearing down old fences, removing stumps, and carrying a shed from the old Ladd farm nearly half a mile through the muddy fields to place it at the edge of the lake, where it became the boathouse.

Sometime in 1916, a particularly energetic student named Ambrose Brownell '17 appears to have declared that one work party a year wasn't good enough, and from that point on attempts were made to maintain both a fall and a spring Campus Day event. The mists of time have shrouded exactly when one of these became known as Canyon Day, and for a time it was unclear as to whether Canyon Day was in the fall and Campus Day in the spring, or vice versa.

Campus Day 1934
Nonetheless, two there were for many years, and the fruits of the laborers ranged from the mundane to the mysterious. In the fall of 1954, for example, Canyon Day workers "converted the Greek theatre dressing room into an annex for the biology department," whatever that means. Despite snow, hail, and rain, they also managed to lay cement walks, dig drainage ditches, and remove junk cars. Shortly preceding Campus Day the following spring, the Quest carried an article reminding Reedies that they would soon "have a chance= to uphold a moss-clad trad-ition when they forsake the cloisters of academic learning to shoulder arms . . . against the common enemy. Weapons will be rakes, shovels, hoes, and related miscellany suitable for an attack on the defiled beauties of nature."

Enthusiasm for the event began to dwindle in the '60s, but in 1987 the tradition was revived as organizers turned to preserving and enhancing the natural habitat of the canyon. This new direction has caused heated debates about exactly how many blackberry vines should be removed in order to preserve the natural balance.

Despite name changes, lapses, and shifts in purpose, something curiously familiar about Campus Days remains throughout Reed's history-- the ability of Reedies to take a good idea and make it their own. See you next spring!

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