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reed magazine logoAutumn 2008

Two Watson Fellows Come Home

Ask Reed’s 2007 Watson fellows if college prepared them to face challenges coolly, and you may be surprised by their answers. It is a legitimate question—whether or not the academic breadth and rigor of the Reed experience translates into personal fortitude—but Jeff Maguire ’07 and Geoff Finger ’07 discovered that nothing could quite have prepared them for their Watson years.

Maguire, a history major from Louisville, Kentucky, and Finger, a religion major from Easton, Pennsylvania, were both selected as fellows in 2007 by the Watson Foundation, which provides funding for year-long independent study projects outside the U.S. to 50 graduating seniors each year.

Jeff Maguire '07

Jeff Maguire in Lesotho

Armed with brio and wit and a $28,000 grant, both Maguire and Finger found themselves modifying or jettisoning parts of their original plans to accommodate the constantly shifting situations in which they found themselves.

It is not, says Maguire, that he wasn’t “perfectly well-prepared on paper.” His proposal, “From Drag Queens to Deities: Exploring Cultural Responses to HIV/AIDS,” combined his long-standing interest in public health with his experience working with HIV/AIDS prevention education in the Pacific Northwest.

Maguire traveled to China, India, Lesotho, and Ukraine. In China, he spent time in Beijing and Shanghai parks, where sex workers meet their clients. He also traveled to cities up and down China’s east coast. Overall, he found a specific cultural response in China, in which resources are directed exclusively to at-risk populations, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men.

But in India, his efforts were frustrated. Maguire encountered social workers who rejected him as a volunteer once they realized he was not a wealthy American financier. And amid the enormity of the AIDS crisis in Lesotho, he found solace, rather than scholarship, while volunteering in an orphanage.

Despite the variety of his experiences over the course of a year, Maguire says flatly: “I thought I had failed.”

Finger approached the Watson year with a similar researcher’s mindset. His proposal, “Moving Beyond the Stage: Exploring Dance as Choreography for Social Change,” sought to explore the connection between dance and social justice in Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil, with Ghana added at a later date. Like Maguire, Finger’s goal was at once “an intended route…singular,” in which, he says, he hoped for some culminating revelation or point of discovery.

In New Zealand, Finger became a “wanderer of dance spaces and festivals,” a part of the artistic landscape but never an active participant. When he arrived in Ghana, however, the head administrator of the National Dance Company told him that he needed to teach dance classes if he wanted to observe dance as a social program. Forced to integrate, Finger says he found himself exploring more deeply the effects of dance; once a scholar of dance programs, in Ghana, Finger rediscovered himself as a dancer.

In Brazil, Finger met a community of dancers—some Brazilian, some from other countries—collaborating through a studio on the third floor of a row house in Salvador de Bahia. He continued to investigate community dance programs, but he no longer approached them as phenomena to observe. They became social movements to experience.

Maguire, now a country director at Fight for Children, a nongovernmental organization in Rwanda, concludes that the Watson was, in many ways, about his own edification. He left the United States expecting to return with reams of notes and first-hand accounts of local approaches to a global epidemic. By the end of his trip, however, his outlook had changed. “I made it,” he says.

Watson alumni are among the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, scholars, and public figures. The point of the fellowship, thinks Maguire, is to allow the fellows to see failure and respond.

For both Maguire and Finger, a Reed education was less important than the experience of being a Reed student. Becoming a fellow requires high levels of academic achievement; the Watson year takes you beyond the limits of academic learning. Maguire says being a Reed student prepared him best by giving him “drive.” Finger is more specific. “Respect and agency,” he says, as well as independence. With these, says Finger, now working in New York as the company manager for Merce Cunningham Dance Company, he was able to thrive artistically and intellectually.

—Brian Radzinsky ’09

reed magazine logoAutumn 2008