“You Are Amazing,” Prez Tells Class of 2024

With a virtual convocation, Reed College welcomes new students to campus to begin the intellectual odyssey of a lifetime.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | August 25, 2020

There was no procession. No brass band. No robes. But there was an unmistakable sense of resilience, gratitude, and hope as Reed College welcomed the Class of 2024 to campus yesterday with a virtual Convocation that emphasized both the challenges and the opportunities of this unprecedented historical moment.

“You are amazing,” President Audrey Bilger told the new students via Zoom. “You have faced many challenges and have overcome formidable obstacles to make it to this day, and you belong at Reed. As you enter this community, know that we care about you and have faith in your future.”

She urged them to cultivate an attitude of “radical mindfulness” in protecting the community against the coronavirus. “We must create new habits and reinforce them again and again and again. We are not helpless, and we are not alone. . . . Believe in yourself, and believe in Reed.”

While the ceremony was conducted online, campus was buzzing with energy as students moved into dorm rooms and prepared themselves for classes that are a mix of online, hybrid, and in-person.

Official figures won’t be available for a couple of weeks, but the unofficial tally is 397 new students (371 first-years and 26 transfers), which puts preliminary enrollment at 1,430 students. In comparison, last year Reed had 394 first-years, 14 transfers, and an enrollment of 1,471.

Professors and staff worked heroically over the summer to transform campus for this day. Dorms were converted to single-room occupancy only—no doubles or triples. (The number of students living on campus has shrunk accordingly to 685, down from a usual census of 990; as a result, more students are living off campus.) 

Three tents (known as Earth, Wind, and Fire) sprang up on the north side of Eliot Hall so that more classes can be held in the fresh air. Another tent appeared on the Quad to expand the dining capacity of Commons (thank you, Bon Appétit). Ventilation systems have been beefed up to improve airflow wherever possible. Basketball courts have been turned into classrooms. An entire residence hall has been designated as quarantine space.

The preparations go far beyond the physical dimensions. Some dorms will host “pods” where first-year students who are taking the same classes will be grouped together—for example, students taking Psych 101 might live in Foster III—as a way to reduce the risk of transmission and promote a sense of community. Meanwhile, professors have been busy mastering new technology and new strategies to deepen the learning experience for students from all walks of life, whether the classes be online, hybrid, or in-person.

Reed is testing every student, professor, and staff member for Covid-19. Physical distancing is required throughout campus, and masks are required in all classrooms and common spaces. (For more details, check out our Covid-19 webpage.)

Despite these efforts, it would be foolish to ignore the hobgoblins of uncertainty gnawing at every student in the nation. Vice President and Dean of Admission Milyon Trulove spoke directly to this concern. 

I know that some of you still feel your hands hovering over the eject button. You may wrestle with doubt. Doubt will beg for space in your psyche. Did you do this college thing right? Did you make a mistake by being here? Did you make a mistake by taking this class online? Did you make a mistake being at Reed?
Now, I know something that most others may not. After spending the last year with every one of you, I know what got you here wasn’t simply your grades. It wasn’t only your test scores. It wasn’t just the nice things your recommenders said about you—although they said some pretty nice things. 
While in high school, this world has thrown everything at you: gun violence in the hallways, a political news cycle that will *not* stop, the ceaseless hurtful critique and cynicism disguised as real talk or advocacy that plagues our social media, physical brutality inflicted against black and brown and trans folks and other gender and ethnic minorities, rising temperatures, hostile weather patterns, and now… the ’rona.
This world threw everything at you during your four years as a high school student. And what did you do? You exhibited hope. And strength. And endurance. In your application you told us that you dreamed of a better future. You told us you had a role to play in what this world would become. You decided to join this venture with us, and in hope.
So I invite you to commit. Double down. Own this experience, invest in this experience. And in four years you’ll look back and say ‘That’s just the path I took.’

Other speakers at Convocation included:

  • Karnell McConnell-Black, VP for Student Life (“Call me Dr. K”)
  • Al Chen ’21, President of the Student Body
  • Apoorva Mangipudi ’21, Vice President of the Student Body
  • Prof. Mary James, Dean for Institutional Diversity
  • Prof. Kathy Oleson, Dean of the Faculty

The ceremony ended on a hopeful note. “I know it still feels weird to wear face coverings and observe physical distancing,” President Bilger said. “Our longing for connection makes us want to show our full range of expressions and be physically close to one another. Just know, this won’t last forever. There will come a time once again when we are able to unmask, shake hands, hug, dance, sing, and all be together on campus. We will get there sooner, if we practice mindful caring for one another now.”

Classes begin next week.


Tags: Campus Life, Covid-19, Editor's Picks, Institutional