NOAA February 2005

A message from the
alumni association president

Preserving "Reedness"

by Holly Gudmundson Leighton '78

For this column I set out to answer the following question: How do you utilize, preserve, and/or honor your "Reedness" amongst the business of everyday life? Since Reedies have a "commitment to primary sources and data," I conducted a non-scientific survey of several alumni with vintages from the '60s to the '90s who have backgrounds in business, academia, and government. Some of these respondents I've known for 30 years; others I've never met.

First, we must define our terms: Reedness probably has as many definitions as there are Reedies. I choose to define it as how the Reed experience has integrated itself into our lives and what it allows us to bring to the table.

One respondent, Richard Danzig '65, chose to frame Reedness in the context of that primordial Reed experience, the Hum conference: "For me, as no doubt for many others, the defining Reed experience was the humanities seminar. Thirty to forty years later, I got to apply skills and approaches absorbed there in a most un-Reed-like context – as Secretary of the Navy. The reward from Reed lay not in the substance of what we studied (though some texts have been richly relevant), but rather in the approach. Influenced by Reed, I tried to run meetings in a spirit of inquiry, with a recognition that the group could produce more insights than any one of us alone (nobody is smarter than everybody) and that idiosyncratic and dissenting views may well offer the richest insight."

Barbara Pijan '79 took a more holistic approach to the role of Reedness: "Reedness for me is permission to enjoy conscious, creative intellectuality. It's permission to think – and live – out of the box. Reed says: first you must learn to identify the box. Here are the methods and methodologies, values and assumptions, histories and traditions. Please conform to the intellectual standards of this box.

"Then Reed says: here are some intense personal relationships,...cathartic emotions, and a heroic thesis which require wisdom, intuition, and faith. None of which you will find inside the box. Good luck.

"Anyone who is still breathing at the end has permission to enjoy Reedness forever."

Many others gave responses that offered a more general approach to the question of Reedness: achieving mastery versus settling for superficiality; keeping one thinking, analyzing, working creatively and independently; the role of Reedness as a sort of "intellectual treadmill" to counteract "flabby reasoning"; the importance of critical thought; the ability to face uncomfortable and difficult conversations; and to thrive on a good challenge. One respondent noted that he reflects regularly on his intellectual and spiritual journey at Reed and has "found continuity between Reed and my spiritual life."

Reedness can be preserved by the "enduring standards of excellence" cited by Patrick Pruyne '83, who also said, "More than any other effect Reed has had upon me is the realization that I am a student for the whole of my life – that each day offers the potential to bring some new insight or opportunity to enrich my understanding and skills that I can bring to bear upon the demands of the day."

And there are still other ways that Reedness manifests itself: an innate sense of rebellion and questioning authority, according to one alumna. Another respondent reported, "I am never completely satisfied with anything I finish. [This] is probably my most Reed-like attribute."

Though the respondents' answers I got were varied, there was one underlying theme: each person exercises Reedness in his or her life. Not one respondent said, "My Reed experience did not affect me at all."

As for me, my Reedness is part of my life manifests itself in a number of different ways, but one stands out: after a 25-year academic hiatus, I am now in graduate school and find that my intellectual curiosity and passion for my chosen field (French) has not waned. My Reedness allows me to tackle research, synthesis of ideas, and interpretation, and lets me revel in the joy of discovery.

Clearly, Reedness follows us no matter what path we've chosen. We are unified as Reedies by the profound effect that the Reed experience has had on us, but at the same time, we have found a rich diversity of ways to honor and preserve that Reedness in many, many ways in all that we do.

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