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Photo by Clayton Cotterell

Ally Watson ’19


Hometown: Springboro, Ohio

How Reed changed me: The biggest development has been gaining my confidence. Freshman year, I was the kid who wouldn’t speak in Hum conference—just wrote my ideas down on paper and talked to people outside of class about my theories and opinions. Now I have the confidence not only to speak my mind and feel like I have valuable insight, but to embarrass myself completely.

Financial aid: I feel extremely lucky that I can attend this institution, but also that education should be accessible and not gatekept by financial restrictions. So thank you very much to all the wonderful donors who make this possible!

Awards, fellowships, grants: Initiative Grant to collect original data in Lebanon, Winter International Travel Fellowship to study drums in Abidjan.

Thesis: Beirut or Beyrouth: French-Oriented Identity in Lebanese Arabic

What it’s about: My thesis looks at the relation between the French  r used as a replacement for the Arabic r and how this relates to French-oriented identity, which is a conflation of language, religion, politics, and social status. This phenomenon is recorded in folk literature, but hasn’t been quantified or connected in an academic study before.

What it’s really about: In a multilingual community, how does language work to distinguish us, and how do we distinguish ourselves through language? 

In high school: I was a bit of a shy nerd with a lot of scattered hobbies, like being obsessed with the Prose Edda, astrology, and robotics. 

Influential Reed class: Vector Calculus with Prof. Jerry Shurman [math] was one of the most incredible classes I’ve taken at Reed. It taught me a lot about myself in terms of my enthusiasm and dedication towards learning a topic just for the sake of it, and how excited I get struggling with an interesting problem. 

Influential book: Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.

Concept that blew my mind: I’m in love with the concept of discourse markers. I did an independent study with Prof. Matt Pearson [linguistics] on the pragmatics of discourse markers. Words like “but” or “well” in English have substantial literature related to their complexities.

Cool stuff: I’ve had a pretty fabulous time at Reed. I learned Coupé-Décalé drumming patterns in Abidjan, studied abroad in Beirut, won the Great Reedie Bake-Off with my team, Mélange Ethnique.

Challenges I faced: Less than a month into my freshman year, my older sister died, which impacted my college experience at every level. It makes things harder, but I think a loss can also challenge you to be your best self. Smaller challenges include tearing my ACL skiing in Lebanon, and the culture shock of moving to a bigger, more liberal city.

What’s next: I'm currently working as a data analyst for a global health nonprofit.