BLAST FROM THE PAST: Brad Stohr, ’91, recalls senior skits, journalism convention

Brad Stohr, ’91, was editor-in-chief of The Octagon in his senior year. Stohr attended Swarthmore College and was a biology major. He then attended medical and graduate school at Duke University to study how broken DNA is repaired. Stohr now works at University of California, San Francisco, where he is a pathologist and runs his own small research lab. He diagnoses people with cancer and tries to figure out what makes cancer cells grow and evolve.

Q: What was your favorite thing about SCDS?

A: That’s a hard one. Probably the small classes and having a close group of friends. The small class sizes led to a really tight community of teachers and students.

When I was there, the teachers still did skits about every graduating senior at the graduation ceremony. (Science teacher Robin) Gordon and (Octagon adviser Patricia) Fels did a skit comparing me to Hamlet, as I had the same habit of overthinking things and not actually taking effective action. They stood on the graduation stage and narrated one of my painfully long internal dialogues. While it wasn’t necessarily the most flattering comparison, it was right on.

I still think of that skit when I catch myself overthinking things, which is often. Somewhere in the closet, I still have a T-shirt with a portrait of Hamlet on it from that graduation day.

Q: Favorite memory of high school?

A: Some of my strongest memories of high school are from the trips: journalism conferences in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, and, of course, the Ashland trips. It was liberating to spend several days with friends in a setting with limited adult oversight. There was lots of sneaking out and bending the rules.

Q: Which teachers do you especially remember?

A: I remember Ms. Gordon. She always let me play with a Slinky in class.

I spent ninth grade at another school, where I actually had a biology teacher who would stand in front of the class and present anti-evolution propaganda as fact. He would show a picture of a cow with a whale’s tail and claim that this was what scientists believed about evolution. It’s still shocking to me that someone like this was allowed to stand in front of a science classroom.

It was great to return to Country Day and learn from somebody like Ms. Gordon, who loved and understood science. Her classes are one of the reasons I chose to pursue science in college and beyond.

Q: What were some major issues on campus?

A: During my time on the paper, there was a scare in the media about the dangers posed by overhead power lines. Some people believed that the electromagnetic fields (EMF) from the wires could cause leukemia.

This was a big problem for Country Day, of course, because of the high-voltage wires running right over the campus. No parent likes the idea of their kid getting zapped with cancer-causing radiation every day.

As part of the story, I was able to walk around the campus with somebody who had an EMF meter. He showed me that the EMF measurements were much stronger sitting in front of a computer than standing under the power lines running over the playground. At that point, it seemed pretty likely that the story was overblown, and the whole scare died down nationally soon after.

Just this week, I was reminded of that story because the New York Times ran an article about the power line controversy and how it still lives on today, no doubt aided by the Internet.

Q: Have you kept in touch with people from your class?

A: Definitely. Not a lot, but several people I talk to every year and hang out with. I still get together with Josh and Jason Miller (’91, ’89) and Nichol and Katina Oliphant (‘89, ’91) several times a year. I also pass Kara Myers (eighth grade class of ’87) on the street every so often, as we live in the same neighborhood in San Francisco. My kids get a kick out (of) seeing somebody that I went to elementary school with. It’s hard for them to imagine that I was once in their position.

Q: Any Octagon memories?

A: One change I made while working on The Octagon was redesigning the masthead. Up until then, the “O” in Octagon had been a really chunky octagon shape. I still get and read every Octagon, and I’ve watched over the years as my redesigned masthead kept evolving. Of course, by now, my redesign is long gone.

A shorter version of this interview was previously published in the print edition on Jan. 13, 2015.

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