Convocation 2010

Welcoming remarks of
Dean of Admission Keith Todd

Keith Todd
Keith Todd

Good afternoon, and welcome to Reed College! It is wonderful to see you all in person, at last. As applicants, you excited us, moved us, impressed us, and even amused us, and each one of you contributes something unique to this dynamic, intellectually vibrant entering class.

I have for you today some facts, and a poem. While Reed is a place that welcomes the individual, it’s also fun to get a sense of who you are as a group, and it’s a tradition for the dean of admission to share some facts with you at this convocation. Three-hundred seventy-three of you are entering freshmen, 33 of you are transfer students, and you were selected from well over 3,000 applicants.

You attended high school in 44 states and 19 countries beyond the US, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Ethiopia, France, India, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, Singapore, Switzerland, and Zimbabwe.

Eighty-nine of you are entering Reed with at least one other person from your high school—representing 38 high schools. One school, Garfield High in Seattle, sent us four freshmen this year. Eleven other schools sent us three freshmen, including six schools from all along the West Coast, but also the Taft School in Connecticut, Palmer High in Colorado Springs, Oak Park and River Forest High near Chicago, and spanning New York State, both Ithaca and Stuyvesant High Schools.

Ninety-six freshmen are from California—26 percent of the class. After that come 30 from Oregon, 24 from Washington, 23 from New York; then Texas, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Florida with 10 to 20 each.

Among the freshman class, the most common woman’s name by far, with seven of you, is Anna. Then, in a seven-way tie with four freshmen each: Alexandra, Emily, Hannah, Jennifer, Laura, Molly, and Rachel. For the men, the top name this year is shared by five Alexanders, five Andrews, and five Williams. Following up are Benjamin, Samuel, and Aaron, with four each.

In the category of most common birthdays, again, it’s a tie—five students each entered the world on March 17, April 17, and July 7. Professors are duly warned to expect large numbers of very sleepy students on March 18 and April 18.

Forty-two freshmen will be first-generation college graduates. Fifty-seven percent of the class is female, 43 percent is male. Twenty-four percent of you identify as students of color, and just under 5 percent of you are citizens of other nations. We welcome all of the diverse experiences you bring.

So, on from facts to a poem from 1929. It is by the British modernist Robert Graves, who is also known for the novel I, Claudius. Its title may sound rather ominous, or even age-inappropriate for today’s event: it’s called “Warning to Children”:

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and pare the rind off:
In the kernel you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel -
Children, leave the string alone!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
[. . .]
With the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
he lives—he then unties the string.

What kind of warning is this? Is it an incantation, or a sly invitation to the life of the mind? Well, that’s part of the fun of the poem, and indeed of the conversations you will have here, interpreting many ideas over the coming years.

If you were children who would “leave the string alone,” you wouldn’t be at Reed College. But here you are, and we in the admission office are delighted to pass you into the care of our faculty and staff, and into the camaraderie of your fellow students. We are very confident that you will have amazing intellectual experiences here at Reed. Look around you: here is your parcel, hiding all manner of richness, complexity, and surprise. Young scholars: untie the string.