Class of 1969
President's Letter



My Fellow Sixty-Niners:

Before I go any further, let me explain something.  I’m going out on a limb here people by suggesting that one of the shortest lived, least known, and most relevant Oberlin traditions is The Great Wooden Spoon.

Back in 1895, some Obie came up with the idea that the most unattractive person on campus should be awarded with a gigantic Spoon.  I’m not sure why a spoon, but it bore the Greek inscription ho aischros labeto, “Let the ugly one receive me.”  This is the Original Obie Ugly Stick.

Only three students in Oberlin history have earned this coveted prize, although I can think of others equally qualified.  These are the Members of the Order of the Spoon.  The first was a guy named Charles Brand (more re. him shortly).  The second, Howard Barnes, modestly announced that “history was being made” by his receipt of the huge utensil.  Neither was especially eye-catching.  The least attractive Spooner, however, in my opinion was the last and apparently reigning titleholder, Vernon “Ozro” Johnston.  While some suggest the name Ozro (I doubled checked to make sure it wasn’t Orzo) gave him an unappealing leg up, I still think he takes the cake.  That’s Ozro down below, so judge for yourself.

By 1897, the Spoon thing ran out of steam, but fortunately Brand articulated its credo at the outset.  It was an “undoubted axiom,” he declared, that the harder and longer someone works, the less physically appealing they become, like some Darwinian law of human alchemy.  The Order of the Spoon claimed Abe Lincoln and Socrates as Patron Saints.  In the scheme of all things Oberlin, deformity is proof of diligence.  An undistinguished exterior correlates inversionally with a distinguished interior (at least at Oberlin).  Appearances are deceiving; you can’t tell a book, let alone an Obie, by the cover.  It’s all so Oberlinish:  contrarian, idealistic, nonconventional, quirky, and authentic.  We gave an award for not fitting the mold.

So Tappan what?  Spoon, fork, knife, chopsticks, whatever, you’re wondering shy this missive itself isn’t fitting the mold.  Why am I talking tableware?  Two reasons:  First, I couldn’t get myself to write the standard-issue OC update I’ve received and sped read in the past.  All due respect to the Alumni Office, I’m going to assume either (a) you don’t care how many new buildings there are that we couldn’t use, which brilliant students won prestigious awards that none of us did, and what fabulous programs have hatched since our departure, or (b) you already know or at least know how to find out.  Suffice to say the place is thriving, looks spectacular, and pretty much retains whatever you liked (or didn’t like) about it way back when.

The other reason is I’ve just won the Spoon.  I’m not saying I’ve aged any worse than the rest of you, or look like I could give poor Ozro a run for his money (though I could lose some weight and gain some hair).  But from all outward appearances, I’m just about the last character to become Class Prez at this stage of the game, let alone Pied Piper for the Final-Curtain-Call  Love-It-Or-Leave-It  Last-Hurrah  50th Reunion in 2019.  In fact, here’s what I wrote to support my conspicuously unopposed candidacy:

If someone thinks I should be Class President at this point, I figure it’s because everyone else who wants to already has.  I wonder whether many of you even remember me, since I don’t recall making any particular effort to meet people at Oberlin.  I was known (or rather unknown) for playing in a band, being smart, and having a pretty girlfriend – all of which are no longer true.  To be perfectly honest, I haven’t actually done anything Oberlinian since leaving.  It just sort of percolates in the back of my mind.  But that it does:  I still believe Oberlin’s a magical place and we were there at a magical time.  We’ve common blood in our veins.  Most of all, being there with you – whether we knew each other or not – made me more than anything before or after.  Probably you too.  In conclusion:  I’m your basic Sixty-Niner.

Come again, Yeomen and Yeowomen, moi Class President?  By what paradoxical logic is that?  I imagined confused colleagues clamoring, “Uh, why you?  No way, pal!”  Still I held steadfast to the Spoon, rattling my oversized utensil like a scholarly saber.  The disconnect, Sayeth the Spoon, is only apparent:  appearances are not only deceiving, but quite the opposite.  Beneath my seemingly disinterested, disengaged, and institutionally inappropriate exterior, there lay, hidden even to me, a rich interior, an untapped subterranean aquifer of Oberlin memories, sensitivities, and affections that curiously, even ironically, qualified me not only to win the Spoon, but be Commander-in-Chief.  And to make Camelot complete, I even finagled my old Obie sweetheart, Carol McLaughlin (Fishwick), into being Veep.  And so it is....

After all, dear constituents, I was nominated by a clandestine classmate bearing some ancestral affinity to Ozro Johnston.  The Spoon turned up one day during spring-cleaning in his family attic.  Once knowledge of Greek atrophied (even for Obies), no one could decipher its arcane inscription.  Gnawed and splintered, the Great Spoon had been abused by generations of dogs as a surrogate bone.  Yet by this benign twist of fate, the ghosts of Shipherd & Finney, et al (ditto the rest of you in passive acquiescence) decided it is I who ought to wield the Oberlinian scepter.  With unwitting fidelity, we’ve revived the Ancient Rite of the Spoon by picking some Ozro who appears wrong on the outside, because he’s right on the inside.  So here I am in the Big Apple thinking all about Oberlin, and all about you, waving this gigantic Spoon.  And I’m asking each of you to do the same:  let our common ancestry begin to percolate, start to consider what Oberlin meant to you on the inside, how it molded us together, and how it made you you.

Each of us is an Obie original, a spoonful in our own right.  So as long as I’m Spoonmeister, I’ll keep prodding you to show up at our Last-Train-to-Ohio  We’ll-All-Be-Gone  Tha-Tha-Tha-That’s-All-Folks  Half-Century Reunion, and come full circle with the rest of us.  Plus it’s personal too:  I’ll need you there in 2019 to pass on this old Spoon to the next Orzo.  I mean Ozro.

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