hamilton in classroom image

Professor James Hamilton ’22 with students in conference, 1955.

Prologue

The pressure cooker that I experienced at Reed, beginning as a naïve, intelligent, gutsy, arrogant person with no background, made my life complete. There’s no other way to say it. The first two years of the Reed system, that of knocking the arrogance out of you, really worked for me. I went from thinking I was the smartest, strongest person to being completely open to learning because I knew that there was so much I didn’t know, that I would never know, no matter if I studied a lifetime.

In your junior year the message was, “You know nothing. You are absolutely stupid. You have to take this junior qualification exam, but don’t think you’re going to pass it, you’re so bad.” Then they tell you that you passed and that you’re good enough to go on. Pat you on the head. You go on to the senior year and it’s, “You can learn anything. There are so many things to learn.” But after your thesis and your orals, it’s, “You don’t know anything now. Go to graduate school. Go out and live. Go forth from here and enjoy life. Learn life. Manipulate life. You have the skills. You can do anything. But you’ve got to work at it. You really don’t know it now, but you can learn it.”

The kind of adult that system produces is one who is strong but who is also compassionate, who knows there are many ways to the truth, and who knows that he or she can learn new things. That’s what Reedies do. If they try this or that and they don’t like it, then they try something else. They go back to the earth and live on the farm and grow buffalo, or they invent a company, or they blend in enough to be the president of a university, or the head of a law firm.

There’s something different about Reed that appeals to what is inside you. It is like falling in love. Then you have to decide if you can take the boot camp. Reed students who survive the process of being torn down, built up again, and then taught to learn that you will always learn—they go out from Reed and keep that attitude of learning and of seeing the possibilities of life. That going through the fire marks the passage from a young person to a real adult.  

—Mertie Hansen Muller ’56