A Word to the Class of 2020

Seven bits of advice I wish I'd gotten when I was a student.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | September 1, 2016

It’s been thirty years, but my first impressions of Reed remain vivid. The elegant profile of Eliot Hall framed by the towering fir trees. The Great Lawn, cool and green despite the August heat. That first Humanities lecture, when Prof. Wally Englert sang the opening lines of the Iliad.

It all seemed exhilarating and intense and faintly unreal. Today, as the early waves of freshmen appear on campus, hauling unruly rolling bags across the Quad and toting misshapen cardboard boxes to their dorm rooms, I think back to 1983 and wonder what kind of advice would have been useful to me. The honest answer is probably “very little” because I was too full of my own opinions to pay much heed to the bromides of elders. But that’s not going to stop me from offering up some suggestions to the Class of 2020:

Chart your course. Reed is like an extraordinary starship designed by an eccentric Victorian watchmaker. It can propel you anywhere in space and time, but it relies on you to dial up the coordinates and wind the mainspring. This sounds easy in theory. It’s harder when you’re wrestling with Plato and you have a history paper due in the morning. But like anything else, the more you put into Reed, the more you get out of it.

Cast a wide net. You probably think of yourself as a science kid. Or a literature kid. Or a computer kid. That’s great. But if I had to identify a recurring theme in the lives of Reed alumni, it would be their ability to borrow ideas from one field and apply them to another. This issue of the magazine includes the story of an English major who became a geneticist and a chemist who became a music professor. Make a point of taking classes that push you beyond your comfort zone.

Sign up and show up. College is the ideal time to try your hand at something new. In fact, it will never be easier to explore an unfamiliar interest. So write for the Quest (an experience that changed my life). Play rugby. Join the philosophy society. Volunteer with SEEDS. Operate a nuclear reactor. Take up the mandolin. Learn to dance.

Keep your door open. Sometimes it’s tempting to hole up in your dorm room. That’s fine—but prop your door open. Go out of your way to do things with your dormies and your classmates. Connect with your professors—they hold office hours for the sole purpose of providing guidance and answering your questions. And for that matter, connect with the staff. Deans, librarians, the guy in the stockroom all want you to get the most out of Reed.  

Head out. Portland is a truly unique community. Hop on a bike, board a bus, and explore the city. And don’t forget the mountain, the river, the forest, and the desert.

Call your family. You won’t always agree with them. You may not always get along with them. But there’s no substitute for them—trust me on this one.