Summer 2017 /Reading Gabi Starr/

Object Lesson

What’s in Your Desk Drawer?

We asked three members of the Pomona College campus community to show us the strangest or most interesting object in one of their desk drawers and to tell us the story behind it. Here’s what we found.


(1) Samuel Yamashita, the Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History, reaches into the bottom drawer of his desk, which harbors intriguing artifacts of every shape, and pulls out a bound volume of bamboo strips, each bearing a vertical row of tiny Chinese characters. It is, he explains, the famous Daoist classic called the Daodejing, which translates to “The Classic of the Way and Virtue.”

He found and purchased this beautiful reproduction in the bazaar in Turfan, an old Silk Road town in western China. Probably written by several different individuals between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE, he explains, the text also contains some archaic passages that may date from the second millennium BCE.

“I started reading it in the original Classical Chinese when I got to Pomona in 1983 and spent one to two years going through the 81-chapter text, passage by passage, word by word,” he says. “I still can recite passages from memory. I tell my students it is the perfect desert-island book, since it is complex, mysterious and allusive, and its meanings are inexhaustible—or perhaps infinite.”

“Last Tour to Endor” pin

(2) Brenda Rushforth, assistant vice president for human resources, says she has been a Star Wars fanatic ever since 1977, when she begged her mom to take her to the first movie for her birthday. She then passed the obsession along to her son, buying him his first light saber at Star Wars Celebration IV in 2007.

All told, the family has attended six Star Wars conventions—one in Los Angeles, one in Anaheim, three in Orlando, Florida, and one in London. Along the way, she has met a veritable who’s who from various Star Wars productions, including original director George Lucas and actor Mark Hamill. The commemorative “Last Tour to Endor” pin that she keeps in her desk drawer is a memento of a special event by that name held at Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando in 2010 in honor of the ceremonial closing of the Star Tours ride. The attendees had an opportunity to enjoy the ride one last time before the original version was shut down for refurbishment.

small rubber stamp

(3) Eleanor Brown ’75, the James Irvine Professor of Economics, paws through a couple of desk drawers, pulling out occasional odds and ends: a couple of bills in Kenyan currency (“Students returning from study abroad often bring samples of currencies along with their many stories”) and a CD titled “The Slippery Noodle,” (“Indiana’s oldest bar and a great place to listen to the blues”). Finally she settles on a small rubber stamp. “In my early 40s, I did a three-year tour of duty as an associate dean,” she explains. “One of the great pleasures of the job was working with the office staff. Jane Arnal and I had offices at one end of the suite, and one of her many artistic outlets was making ink stamps. This one was a gift to me during the time I was the sexual harassment officer of the College.”