A Push

For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise. This week is known as Paideia after the Greek term signifying “education” – the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community? (200 words minimum, 500 words maximum)


Few things rival the rigorous blend of dexterity, reflexes, and chess-like foresight that true mastery of ping pong demands. When I entered boarding school as an anxious and introverted junior, though, ping pong became more than just a thrill. It became a powerful vehicle to conquer my social inhibitions and a portal to an exuberant, inclusive community. At the tables, I found myself face-to-face with a wide array of eclectic opponents I would've never otherwise had the courage to approach. I use "opponents" loosely, though, because the social connections I forged so naturally across those tables far overshadowed any competitive element of the game. We guffawed at clumsy trick-shots and lauded well-executed slices.

I soon became more than a player. When my right arm protested a fourth or fifth game, I stood and I watched, and my identity as a spectator turned out to be much more meaningful than serving and spinning and smashing the ball myself. How profoundly gratifying it was to witness friendships bud, inhibitions dissolve, and humanity intersect across cultural and social chasms at those three well-worn tables. Divisions of ethnicity, grade-level, and social circles were unheeded. Ping pong made something happen; it...

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