They say Disneyland is the most magical place on Earth and having been there many times myself, I have to agree. It is a terrific place for people of any age to just sit back and have a good time. Although it is indeed magical, it does not deserve the title of “the most magical place on Earth;” no, that title belongs to Reed College. For me, it is that time of life; college picking season!
After countless hours of research over the span of many weeks, I came to the conclusion that Reed was the perfect match for me. Judging from their Wikipedia page, College Board page, their own website, and the brochures they sent me, it seemed absolutely flawless; it was everything I was looking for in a college: great location, a beautiful campus, but most importantly, a diverse, open-minded, and highly intellectual student body and faculty. My entire life, I’ve felt somewhat suppressed by our public education system. As my friend once bluntly said, “A system based on cramming for finals does not teach!” I couldn’t agree more. Ever since I entered Middle school, my educational experience has been suffering a slow and arduous decline in quality. Subjects that had once fascinated me, like science and math, became the bane of my existence. How I dreaded entering those classrooms every day after day of my miserable existence. Thankfully, my interest in English, History, and the arts continued to breathe throughout middle school, just long enough for high school to come around and rekindle my almost comatose passion for learning. While my passion for math and science never quite came back, I have had nothing but the best of luck with History and English teachers. Gone was the focus on grammar and books that had no significance. Finally, everything became relevant, facts became interesting, but most of all, I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss and present my thoughts and opinions in a classroom setting.
My first experience with the Socratic Seminar was as a Freshman at Paly. My English teacher, who also happened to teach Humanities to the upperclassmen, incorporated many of the teaching methods he used in teaching his Humanities students to teach us lowly underclassmen. It was a truly eye-opening experience. Instead of taking reading quizzes, we would discuss literature. This was my kind of education! While discussion was not featured as prominently in my other (and future) History and English classes, it still existed in small amounts and was sufficient to keep me engaged in the subject matter at hand for the most part. When finally, it was my turn to be a junior, you can bet that Humanities was the first class on my list of classes to take and sure enough, I get the same teacher I had for freshman year. My experience in that class has been nothing short of sensational. I knew that when I went to college, this is the kind of education I wanted to pursue.
Given that my parents would only pay for one plane ticket for college visiting, my decision to visit Reed was actually a quite difficult one to make. As previously stated, I logged countless hours visiting various websites and reading everything there was to read about colleges which were within my grasp (my GPA is none to stellar due to lackluster performance in Science and Math). I knew that a small liberal arts college would be the way to go for me, but which one? To be honest, I ended up choosing Reed because it seemed like the most prestigious school that I had a chance of getting into. What I didn’t know is how much it would end up growing on me. Although at first it was the name that attracted me to it, as I read more and more about it, the more I realized that I would actually enjoy going there. So finally, I booked my flight for spring break and I was confident that I had made the right choice. That is until I started talking about it to other people…
“Everyone at Reed does drugs!” or “The people there are too smart for you!” and “Reedies are weird, only weirdos go to Reed and they come out weirder than when they went in!” Needless to say, I felt somewhat discouraged and began to regret my choice. However, it was too late to change my itinerary so Reed it was.
When I arrived, everything went as I would have expected. Beautiful campus, open people, nice facilities, etc. To be honest though, there was nothing that made me think, “This is the place for me and there’s no doubt about it…” That is until I met my dorm host for the night. He showed me and my room mate our dorm and had us drop off our stuff. He then took us to the Commons cafeteria to get dinner. It was 5:30, by the time we had left our table, it was nearly 8 o’clock! During those 2 hours, I sat with him, his girlfriend and two of his other friends and just talked the entire time. I was worried that these people would be so smart that they would have nothing to do with me; as it turns out, they were more than happy to not only answer all my questions, but invite me into their discussions about literature, and economics, music, and many other topics of great interest. I didn’t feel like I was in over my head; for the first time in my life, I felt surrounded by a group of equals. Whenever we have a discussion in English class, it’s usually only me and about 5 other people who talk while everyone else sulks in their desks and there’s always that one asshole who just refuses to listen to anyone. Here it was different; not only did everyone participate, everyone wanted to participate and had something to contribute. It was during this time that I came to the conclusion that I was coming to Reed for college no matter what.
After dinner, my host had to leave so he left me and my room mate with his two friends who took us down to the pool hall. Cigarette smoke hung thick in the air like the steam in a sauna. It mingled with the sweet scent of beer and the persistent beat of the music creating an almost intoxicating atmosphere. The fact that a place like this could exist in the middle of such an intelligent community nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes. As we hung out in the hall, shooting pool and listening to music, I couldn’t help but wonder what other surprises Reed had in store for me. After our host’s friends left us, my room mate and I went our separate ways. I decided to go to the library and see what it was like to be a Reedie on a typical tuesday night.
The first thing I noticed was the complete and absolute silence that blanketed the entire 5 story building. I found a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray (which I was supposed to be reading for Humanities anyway) and sat down and just read for an hour. So reading was still just reading, even if I was reading in the same room as like 300 other people. Afterwards, I returned to my dorm to find my room mate trying to sleep–it was only 9 PM… I decided that there had to be something more interesting to do so I went downstairs into the kitchen where I found 4 Reedies drinking coffee and eating pie with a nice, fat side dish of friendly banter. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just walked right past them and explored the fairly uninteresting common room and TV room. On my way back, one of them caught my gaze and invited me over for a slice of pie and conversation. Seeing as I had no plans, I figured why not. This turned out to be my best decision of the entire night.
They treated me as one of their own and I instantly felt right at home. We chatted and gossiped about our friends and family (yes, apparently intellectuals gossip as well), shared stories of life experiences, and talked about Reed (that was more for me but they seemed to tolerate, if not enjoy answering any questions I had). They told me about the workload, oh the workload! One girl told me that on average, she only gets about 2 hours of true free time a week! The funny thing is though, they weren’t complaining; in fact, they seemed to enjoy talking about all their work to a certain extent and I had a feeling that if I was in the same position, I would too. In high school, no one wants to discuss what we learn, no one cares, we learn it to pass the tests and that’s the end of it. At Reed, they learn for the sake of learning and it truly shows. Finally, at around midnight, things began to wind down and while a few of them went off to study some more, most of us turned in for the night.
The next morning, I woke myself up and ate breakfast alone. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I headed to my first of three classes I was scheduled to audit. It was a lecture on the book of Exodus for the freshman Humanities course (!!!). It was about how the Israelites united under Moses and travelled to Israel under Moses, and about the ten commandments, first and second temples, etc. Overall it was a pretty interesting lecture (though my description may come off as otherwise). Immediately following the lecture, I went to a classroom nearby which had about 29 or so students including me and another sit-in. This class was exactly what I hoped it would be. The teacher just stood in the background and asked a single question, essentially the rest of the period was just a discussion between us students. Even though I wasn’t in the class, I felt compelled to share my views and was able to do so without so much as a strange look! By this time I was more than convinced that I had died and gone to education heaven. Unfortunately though, the time had come for me to leave.
I decided to have lunch at the Commons before I left and on my way there, I ran into one of the Reedies with whom I had been chatting with the night before. We ended up eating together and she not only continued to answer any questions I had, but also helped me sort out my life on the whole (mainly issues pertaining to family but that’s a whole other story for the future). She was actually a British foreign exchange student to Reed which was interesting because one of the other options I had been considering was to attend college in England. She helped me out a lot and I really can’t thank her enough. If you’re reading this, anonymous, thank you again!
After lunch, I bid farewell to Reed college and got on the bus to the airport (actually, I had to track down a bag I had lost on the bus the previous day but that’s not interesting enough). After sitting next to a demented old man who was speaking in tongues and singing random songs for about an hour, I made it to the airport and boarded my flight home. During the entire flight, all I could think about was how much I wanted to go to Reed. My one day there was nothing short of phenomenal and I could imagine a better place to spend 4 of the most important years of my life.