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Why I Don’t Give to Reed

Such, such were the joys. Eric and unidentified classmates pose for the Griffin in 1995.

By Eric Eschen ’95

As a graduate of ’95, I do what most Reed alumni do. I receive the Reed magazine, skim through it until I get to my years, and look for past friends hoping they’re doing well. I receive a yearly call from a friendly Reed student asking for a pledge. I visit the campus when in town and remember days gone by.

I also do not give. The reason is simple. Superficially, I would say I felt that tuition for my time at Reed was enough of a contribution. However, and more honestly, I have a thinly veiled animosity towards Reed. While a student at Reed, I never really excelled, but feel I acceptably passed through with Bs and Cs. I never had the dedication of my roommate, who truly embraced the life of an academic and spent countless hours pushing himself to do better. I spent countless hours socializing, playing rugby, or just procrastinating. I remember sitting at a table in commons in the last days of my senior year with my roommate and two other friends. Somehow it came up that one of them was going to graduate Phi Beta Kappa and the other two nonchalantly said that they were too. I was not. 

I always felt that I had not completed Reed the way I should have. I did not meet the expectations of Reed and instead merely, adequately, finished. It had always been a battle inside me when I looked back at my college years. I let Reed down. And when you have such a feeling, you can either take responsibility or you can blame something else. I chose to blame, move on, and not give.

Malcom Gladwell, a social scientist, recently wrote about a bright high school senior who went to Brown University and how she struggled in o-chem and eventually dropped out of the sciences. His argument was that if she had attended a less competitive program, like a state school, she would have been more likely to graduate and become a scientist. His reasoning went that it is better to be a big fish in a little pond than face the overwhelming competition of the sea. 

What this line of argument is missing is the bigger picture of what a school like Reed gives to its students. At Reed, I made friends from all over the world. I learned to play rugby, which became a lifelong passion. Pete, our amazing rugby coach, always said, “Wherever you go in the world, you can find a rugby game.” I carried that gift with me in my travels and still smile when I think of playing.

Back in Idaho, I became a teacher, a principal, and then enrolled in a PhD program. I finished this last summer, and afterwards visited Portland on a family trip. I stopped by Reed and walked through the thesis tower. I pulled out my thesis and laughed at the formatting that so closely follows a dissertation. Reed had prepared me well and had also opened so many other doors beyond academia. In my thesis dedication, I wrote (paraphrasing), “Reed has truly been a love/hate relationship, but the end is good.” With a bigger picture in mind, I realize the problem was never Reed, but my struggle to find the difficult balance between work, fun, friends, and family. I’ve discovered there is never enough time for any of these things, and I can feel inadequate as a principal, father, husband, or I can accept that given so much time in a day, I need to choose how to spend it. If someone else is more driven in one of those areas, what a gift for me to learn from that person and make my own decisions based on my priorities.

The lessons I learned at Reed (including in the classroom) are a priority to me. I believe in what Reed offers and believe that other students who are not able to afford the tuition should be given a chance to experience the school (even if they are not in the top 5%). Who really wants to stay in a small pond, when the sea is so much more exciting and challenging? And as we look back at our years, will we look at what we could have been, or come to peace with what we were and who we are? 

Enclosed is the first of my monthly checks. I hope it can help.

Eric Eschen is the principal of Pathways Middle School in Meridian, Idaho. Find out more about how you can give to Reed.