Letter from the Editor for Jamie Soukup Reid

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Letter from the Editor for Jamie Soukup Reid

Shelly Le

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This August, The Pioneer community lost one of our dearest members. Alumna Jamie Soukup Reid ’10, her husband Will Reid and their unborn child passed away in a car accident in North Carolina as they were returning home from a friend’s wedding. Jamie and Will were married in May of this year. During her time at Whitman College, Jamie worked as a resident assistant for the Writing House and was the editor-in-chief of The Pioneer from 2008-2009. Jamie then went on to work for Teach for America and to receive her master’s degree in urban education at the University of Pennsylvania, where she met Will.

Today, Jamie’s memory lives on across campus. Although I never met Jamie, I have heard many great stories about her during my time at The Pio. She was a mentor for many student journalists and was vital in increasing the quality and professionalism of the paper. In a way, she has become my own mentor, an example of whom I should be and how I should lead.

The Sunday following their passing, Jamie and Will’s obituary appeared on the front page of Philadelphia’s daily newspaper – The Philadelphia Inquirer. I didn’t know Jamie or Will, but I wish I had, because what I’m told of their bright personalities, intelligence and passion for life are exactly what I wish I had myself. 

Following their passing, multiple Whitman alumni asked me to create some forum to pay tribute to Jamie and her family. Below you will find several letters, pictures and illustrations submitted from Whitman community members who continue to miss and love Jamie and her family.

As we start the new school year, keep in mind of what you want to achieve and what motivates you. This year, my motivation is Jamie’s legacy.

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We are crushed and devastated by the loss of Jamie and Will. They were the Best and the Brightest. Smart. Giving. Outgoing. Funny. Individuals comfortable just being themselves. The loss is not just ours personally, but society’s. They were going to change the world. For a few select kids in Philadelphia who had them as their teachers, they DID change their world. Everyone has that one teacher you look back on that made all the difference. Jamie and Will were that teacher to many of their students.

Whitman helped shape Jamie to be the extraordinary young woman she was. As her parents, we could see the growth in her every year. She loved Whitman and blossomed there. By graduation, she was transformed. It was amazing. She thought critically and deeply. She developed such empathy and willingness to see another side to most every situation. She was polished and poised. She was always the Champion of the Underdog, and would stick up for the weak or disadvantaged. We will always be so grateful to the Whitman community for what they did for Jamie. We know Whitman shares a lot in common with Dartmouth College, and that environment was similarly transformative for Will.

Following Jamie and Will’s memorial here in Washington, a group of friends that Jamie grew up with gathered together to help each other cope with the news. As they discussed how much Jamie and Will had already accomplished, their overwhelming sentiment was “Wow, we have to get our shit together.” We thank Whitman and Dartmouth, for helping Jamie and Will to have gotten theirs together already. We will miss them dearly forever, but take inspiration and pride in their young lives.

-Ron & Kay Soukup

When I first met Jamie, she scooped me up, told me she’d decided she already liked me, and promised to look out for me. I was a quiet, shy freshman who joined the Pioneer production staff with no idea of how fundamentally Jamie, and The Pio, would shape my time at Whitman. She was a smart, fierce, spunky junior, bursting with energy and ideas, as editor in chief at the paper as much as in life. She regularly took me to dinner, played with my hair, asked me nosy questions, gave me wonderful advice and told me all about her life plans. She was my big sister on staff, both a friend and a mentor.

Jamie set an amazing example for me, from her style, to her wit, to her enormous and loving heart. She helped build a community both in and out of the newsroom, a sense of belonging that I tried to foster in the years following her departure from The Pio. I’m so grateful for the time I spent with Jamie, and for the courage and self-confidence she inspired in me.

Life is so strange, and so fragile. I’ll do my best to always carry your joy and vibrancy with me, Jamie.

-Sara Rasmussen, Pioneer Web Editor 2011-2012

I wrote my first Pio article for Jamie the first week of my freshman year. She was news editor at the time, and it was her I was most worried about disappointing when I quit a month later. Luckily, the quitting didn’t stick, and she went on to become an amazing mentor and friend. I have memories of late, late nights in the Pio office that will always make me smile. Jamie, I can’t believe you’re gone. You were the best sort of person: brilliant, beautiful and utterly unafraid to be you. There’s nothing more telling than the way you touched everyone you met. I’ll miss you so much, rest in peace.

-Rebecca Fish, Pioneer Web Editor 2010-2011

I joined The Pio as a reporter in Jamie’s and my sophomore year, when she was the news editor. I was always intimidated by –– and maybe a little disgruntled at ––her constant story pitches and almost immediate volunteering to cover leftover stories. No one was surprised when she became editor in chief the following year. It was in that position that I got to know her better and worked with her more closely. Although she only held it during our junior year, she set a standard of Pio management that followed into our senior year. Production night became an open invitation to anyone on staff who wanted to be involved; Pio editor and staff parties became regular events; creative and innovative ideas for the newspaper were strongly encouraged from everyone.

Jamie took the newspaper –– before, a passion to some but a resume item for most, I think –– and turned it into a community. Even as a senior when no longer a Pio staff member, she showed up to production nights to study, hang out and visit. I, for one, always looked forward to my Wednesday nights up in Reid, despite the usual 4 a.m. bedtime. My time on The Pio defined the latter half of my years at Whitman, and I credit that almost entirely to Jamie.

-Margaux Cameron ’10, Pioneer Managing Editor 2009-2010

I loved working with [Jamie] and for her. I had absolute trust that she and Kim Sommers ’11, [Jamie’s co-editor in chief] was guiding The Pio in the right direction. The newspaper had journalistic integrity and was a well-respected organization around campus. She was demanding but also just an incredible sweetheart with a smile that just made you want to forget about your troubles and be thankful that you were in the office working on the next issue. You always felt that you were the only one that mattered when she was speaking one-on-one with you. Truly the light of the room, Jamie made everyone around her better and the world is a much lesser place without her. She had such a bright future ahead of her, and although she will not realize it, many people will keep Jamie in their thoughts and she’ll help countless others achieve their goals and aspirations.

-Brett Axelrod ’09, Pioneer Photography Editor 2007-2008

Jamie was one of the first upperclassmen I connected with as a freshman at Whitman. She wasn’t my RA, she wasn’t my editor on The Pio, and she wasn’t in any of my classes. Jamie and I met through Whitman’s Story Time Project. Each week Jamie would pick me up in the parking lot behind Jewett and we’d set out on the short drive to The Ark Day School where we’d read story books to preschoolers for half an hour. Like many freshmen, I had a hard time adjusting to my first semester at college, and like many freshmen, I often felt alone in my struggles. I came to look forward to Thursday afternoons, not just because they offered a break from life on campus––if only for an hour––but also because, in Jamie, I had found a mentor and role model. I don’t remember the specifics of our conversations––in the end, the exact details weren’t what was important. What counted was the underlying and unspoken support our drives offered. Jamie’s car was a space where I could drop the act and be vulnerable, where a small gesture on her part made a big difference on my end. Thank you, Jamie. You will be missed.

-Cara Lowry ’12, Pioneer Managing Editor 2011-2012

As Jamie and Will were on the path to bringing a child into the world, I find myself reflecting on the nature of parenthood during this difficult time. Jamie was my role model when I attended Whitman, and while I knew she was close with her parents Ron and Kay, their influence on her character was something only suggested or loosely implied. In recent weeks, I have gained two new role models. Ron and Kay Soukup are two gracious, openhearted people who have decided to embrace everyone who even slightly knew Jamie, and engage this community during an unspeakably tough time, rather than closing themselves off by asking for space. Space isn’t something they want, and I encourage anyone who has thoughts or memories of Jamie to contact them. In fact, I feel closer to Jamie now that her parents have opened their hearts to my grieving process as well. It’s clear Jamie was a distinct product of Ron and Kay, and everything I say about Jamie is a reflection of them as well. The most direct way I can talk about Jamie is this: Jamie is my role model. I aspire to carry myself with her grace, confidence, sensitivity and intelligence. I aspire to have the effect she has on others, the way she makes people feel important, heard and respected, how she champions the underdog and the people who defy categorization. I aspire to embody her humor, wit and grit. Her poise, her empathy, her sensitivity and her admitted perfectionism. Jamie is part of every reason why I am a stronger, more steadfast friend, partner and future mother than I was before I met her. And with equal eagerness for the world Jamie embodied, I will continue to keep her alive by carrying out the qualities I admired so much in her.

-Jenna Mukuno ’11, Pioneer Chief Copy Editor 2010-2011

It’s simply staggering to process the news of Jamie and Will’s death. I’m heartbroken for their parents, their friends, their own students… I had the pleasure of working closely in creative writing classes with Jamie for all her years here at Whitman, and her presence always promised invigorating, intense discussions, leavened with boisterous laughter. I’m honored that she trusted me as her adviser to help her navigate the intimate, honest essays she wrote for her senior thesis; that time was a true gift. She was a writer whose published work I looked forward to reading in print down the road. It was so gratifying to see how in the last couple of years she’d carved a fulfilling place for herself in the world, and found a best friend to marry and with whom to begin a family. She was such a bright spark, and, indeed, an inspiration. I loved receiving updates from her. Her loss fills me with urgency to make the very most of absolutely every living moment. I’ll miss Jamie.

-Mina Schwabacher Professor of English/Creative Writing and Humanities Katrina Roberts

Wherever Jamie Soukup went she left part of herself behind; her warmth and intellectual energy remained strong in my heart long after she graduated. I had the very great fortune of being her professor at Whitman for several classes, one in Romantic literature and the other in 18th-century literature. She would sit in the very center of class, leaning forward and ready to grapple with all sorts of difficult literature; from Swift to Byron, nothing intimidated Jamie. She was an innovative reader who always wanted to see beyond the books she read to the ideas behind them, and then to apply these ideas to life itself. She was insatiably curious about books and life and savored every page as intensely as she savored experiences. One of her (many) favorite writers was William Blake, and I’m not surprised she liked him because his writing asks us to live as Jamie did – to relish the intensity of every moment:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

And somehow, Jamie managed to blend her scholarly passion with an absolutely hilarious sense of humor. One day I received an email from Jamie with the heading “Lice.” I had no idea what to expect from the title. Was there some sort of epidemic at Whitman that I wasn’t aware of? Opening the email I discovered Jamie had just been teasing me. She was planning to write an essay on Robert Burns’s “To a Louse,” and was telling me about research she’d been conducting on the perception of lice in the 18th century. She also created a listserv for a group she was working with in the 18th-century literature class with a very silly title –– “[email protected]” (another quote from a Burns poem). Learning and laughing seemed to go together for Jamie, and it was infectious. No wonder her students in Philadelphia loved her so much and learned so much from her.

Jamie was other centered. Her memorial service in Sammamish demonstrated just how many people she had deeply touched, an astounding number of people given her young age. From my experience with her, it seems that she invited such devotion and appreciation because she was a servant leader, someone who led from behind, eschewing personal glory for helping others to reach their full potential. After completing a group assignment during my Romantic class, everyone in Jamie’s group handed in cards outlining their contributions to the assignment. Jamie listed only a few modest tasks, significantly understating her role, and instead wrote voluminously about how hard everyone else worked. It was her peers, the other members of her group, who told me about the impressive amount of work she had put into the project and the central role she played in organizing and leading the group.

Jamie was unforgettable and sparkling. Every instant I spent with her was worthwhile and valuable. I feel so privileged to have known her and so sorrowful that we have lost her and her beloved husband Will, who was clearly the love of her life. The world is a much sadder place without Jamie, but it is a far brighter, more joyful place because she was in it. The memories she has left those of us fortunate enough to have known her are vibrant and multicolored. In my mind’s eye, I will forever see her leaning forward in the center of the classroom, laughing, learning and loving.

-Associate Professor of English and General Studies Sharon Alker

I can’t say that I knew Jamie Soukup especially well, but then again, Jamie was the kind of person you didn’t have to be close to for her to have a big impact on you. When I first joined The Pio in 2009, she, as editor in chief, helped to set a tone of professionalism and fun-heartedness that influenced my work during the following three years. During my sophomore year, she provided guidance and reassurance as I wondered how I could be a Pio editor and an R.A. at the same time (she had done both simultaneously, too). She was also a giver –– I remember her driving me and a few other editors to the airport at 5:30 one October morning so we could go to a journalism convention; she did so with a smile.

In The Pio office, we used to have a tradition of naming production computers after people –– a potpourri of celebrities, former editors and the like. After she finished her tenure as editor in chief, one such computer was named Jamie Soukup –– in a way, it stood as a reminder that while she was no longer an editor, she had had a great influence on our publication. As I reflect now, I feel a connection to that sentiment: Jamie may no longer be with us, but The Pio is what it is today in part thanks to her legacy.

-Josh Goodman ’12, Pioneer News Editor 2009-2011

In my first year as editor in chief at The Pioneer, I remember thinking (like a prima donna), “No one gets this newspaper.” And then, like a character in a movie, in walked Jamie Soukup: a freshman with ideas, motivation, experience and the kind of je ne sais quoi one only experiences a few times in life. She sat down and knew just what she wanted, and she was good at it. We made her news editor within her first year at the paper.

Jamie was brilliant. There is really no other way to put it. I remember a late night in the office, saying that if I had to pick one person to be on a desert island with, I would pick Jamie. She was one of those one-in-a-million types of people who was good at literally everything. After I graduated from Whitman, I asked her to send me hard copies of The Pio, and she did; I confess that I read them just to see what Jamie had to say. When Jamie had something to say, you listened.

I stayed in touch with very few people from Whitman after I graduated. But I stayed in touch with Jamie. I wish I could say that was because I was a good correspondent –– but I’m a terrible correspondent. I stayed in touch with Jamie because she made sure we were in touch, because Jamie’s heart was so huge and so loving that she made sure to stay connected to the people in her life that mattered to her. During her time at the paper, she worked with The Pio staff to bring that newspaper to its highest level of potential. I wish I could have learned from her before I took the helm. But the world works in funny ways.

The legacy Jamie leaves behind is impossible to put into words. It is an unspeakable tragedy that her life was cut short before she reached her full potential. We owe it to her to live our lives a little more like she lived hers: with dedication, love and an unyielding sense of fun.

-Sophie Lucido Johnson ’08, Pioneer Editor in Chief 2005-2008

When I was an unsure first-year illustrator, Jamie knew my name. She organized the only successful Pio IM team in my four years on staff –– only she was able to convince overworked newspaper staffers that committing even more of their time to a soccer team would be fun. And it was. Jamie invited all around her to share a piece of themselves, and in doing so, she made The Pio not just a newspaper but a team and a community. I tried to follow the example of her leadership when I served as EIC. I admired Jamie tremendously: for her work at The Pio, her way of reaching out to include those at the fringes of a group, her articulate and original contributions in English classes, her fearless style, her generosity, her wit, her determination. Her bright and undaunted spirit remains with The Pio, and doubtlessly, with all whom she touched.

-Patricia Vanderbilt ’12, Pioneer Editor in Chief 2011-2012

I met Jamie Soukup when I was a freshman at Whitman College and she was a sophomore. At the time, she was the news editor of The Pioneer, and I was a new and eager freshman reporter. Shortly after we met, we became co-editors in chief of The Pio –– one of the most stressful, time consuming, yet emotionally rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.

In many ways Jamie and I were very different. She was from the Seattle area and I was from New England. She was an English major, who was a whiz at writing headlines and enjoyed working with reporters; and I was an Economics major who preferred working with the budget and liaising with the community and administration. She was an in-vogue, artsy, independent; and I listened to top 40 on the radio and was a member of the Greek system. But she cared deeply about making The Pio better, and so did I.

At the beginning of our relationship, I was uncertain how two seemingly different people would come together to define a working partnership for the newspaper, and I presumed our relationship would be limited to professional interactions. I was wrong.

Even while I was in it, I’m not sure I fully understood the profound impact and lasting impressions Jamie was etching away at me. Because, of course, so much of what made Jamie Jamie was her ability to make an impact on others in the most subtle, caring, creative and unpresuming way.

This “Jaminess” showed itself in so much she did for The Pioneer –– From insisting she hand-make dozens of “I read The Pio” pins for new Whitties, to fostering The Pio community by leading an aptly named “Oxford Commas” club soccer team, hosting murder mystery dinner parties and leading the staff in rounds of Pio charades, to gracefully responding to critical feedback from our readers that dubbed us as “weenies who miss the point.” Jamie continually showed compassion for others, pride and confidence in the work she did, and an ingenuity in the way she led her life.

Jamie has most certainly set a very high standard of not only what it means to be a Pioneer editor, but what it means to be a positive, contributing member to society. After having read the many outpourings of love and memories from those who knew Jamie, it is clear that she has left this impact on more than just the Whitman Community.

Since our time together on The Pioneer, through the most recent months, I have continued to have an enormous amount of respect for Jamie. She was a wonderful teammate, a driving force for goodness in The Pio and someone I have always deeply admired. Jamie has driven me to be a better leader, a better professional and a better human being.

Jamie, quite simply you have led me to be a better me. Some of my best learning and growing happened with you and, often, because of you. You have brought an elusive joy to my life that extended far beyond the professional realm – from your goofy laugh and quirky sense of humor to your spot-on and totally unnecessary gifts, to your unwavering support for those around you. I have so enjoyed being a part of your life at Whitman and then watching from a distance once you graduated, as you continued to make an impact on the world around you.

Thank you for being a great partner and friend. You will not be forgotten.

-Kim Sommers ’11, Pioneer Editor in Chief 2008-2009

So much has been said about Jamie’s compassion, generosity and selflessness – her natural ability to make those around her feel included and her eagerness to help others. That spirit of kindness and devotion animated everything she did at Whitman, from supervising the Writing House and volunteering at campus events, to editing the Pioneer and working at KWCW, where she co-hosted the Pio‘s weekly radio show.

One of these shows in particular remains among my favorite memories of Jamie, because it demonstrates not only the commitment and curiosity that so many friends had come to know of her, but also her playfulness, humor and wit. It was during the fall of our senior year, an important time when everyone was starting to think about the future and “Twilight: New Moon” came out. In honor of the occasion, Jamie invited me, Marcy and fellow English major Rebecca to join her in a panel discussion about the film series.

Jamie approached the task at hand with the scrupulous attention to detail she applied to everything she did, arriving to the studio with a carefully prepared set of questions that she thought would not only appeal to listeners, but allow her friends to have fun as well. For the next 20 minutes, Jamie spoke deliberately as she prompted discussions about young adult novels, vampires, the Whitman student body, the relative attractiveness of supernatural creatures and whatever else came to mind, giving each subject equal consideration and listening attentively to everyone’s opinions.

And when the discussion started to break down and veer off in different directions, Jamie just laughed and joined in, encouraging people to talk about whatever they felt like. I’m not sure exactly how the show ended, but I know everyone left with a better understanding of and appreciation for Jamie’s sense of humor – at times extremely dry, at times extremely goofy and often with a playful sense of mischief aimed at simply messing with people. Her humor was such a wonderful part of who she was, and I’m so grateful for all those moments I got to share in it.

On a personal note, I wanted to say that I’ve rarely felt like a cooler person than when I’ve been around Jamie. She was an endlessly optimistic person who took great pride in supporting her friends in whatever they did. But she was also an incredibly cool person, and when you were with her, she made you feel cool, too. I can’t count the number of times Jamie introduced me to someone as if I were the coolest person in the world, even though I felt like the exact opposite. Every time I was with her, she made me feel like I was the very best version of myself. I am devastated she is gone and will miss her very, very much.

-Jocelyn Richard ’10, Pioneer News Editor 2010