Kate Luebkeman ’19 was awarded Presidential Honours for Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, and earned the 2018 “Outstanding Classroom Citizen” award for third- or fourth-year student for the Book Prize Committee. She tells us about escaping, the role comedy has played in her life and education, and why she prefers Quest’s curriculum to conventional academics.

What is your Question?

I honestly don’t know now! My first was “How is escape imagined?” I looked at people’s escapes — why would one person escape through a book, one through nature? What are they escaping from and to? What does that say about people and society? I quickly realized the question was too big and would take a lot of independent study. I then discovered comedy after spending two days binge-watching the series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It was transformative for me.

I realized that comedy had greatly informed my own life and acted as my own escape. When a close friend died by suicide at age 16, I watched Youtube comedians like Grace Helbig and Jenna Marbles to calm my grief before sleeping. I remember watching the British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway with my family while growing up in England. When we moved to the U.S. in 2008, it was a challenging time for us. But, we kept our tradition of watching the show and laughing together. I have come to realize, though, that laughter isn’t the medicine. Empathy is. Laughter just helps us empathize. It’s a means to an end.

What is your Keystone?

I interviewed seven female comedians from southern Oregon this summer for original research. I have gone back and forth on the best way to share their stories. I considered writing a comedy show, but as it stands, that route looks unlikely. So, I have decided on an auto-ethnographical written piece that pulls together their narratives, my own experience as a young woman entering the stand-up world, and theoretical analysis. My intent is to fill some gaps in research on women in comedy: particularly, the lack of research on women in local comedy scenes, and the lack of research actually done by women in comedy on women in comedy.

Tell me about your Experiential Learning.

In 2018, I interned for a sketch comedy company in San Francisco called Killing My Lobster. It was created by college students who wanted to perform insightful sketch comedy. They’ve been around for 25 years and are a non-profit, so they’re unique in the comedy world. They pay all their writers and artists, which is also, unfortunately, unique. I found them because they have an awesome Diversity in Comedy fellowship. Every year, they offer 10 fellowships to people of color and LGBTQ+ people, wherein they receive free comedy classes and a guaranteed paid role in a show. While there, I did various jobs: from organizing the prop closet and brushing wigs to creating a database for their creative pool in order to collect info on who identifies as queer, or as an immigrant etc., which is helpful in getting grants.

Why did you choose Quest?

My parents valued learning in all aspects of life. My dad taught engineering at many places including MIT and ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, so early on I learned to appreciate traditional, big-name education. Until I was 12, I honestly thought there were only Ivy League schools. My mom had a different path. She went to a small liberal arts school and then into the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea, and then became a backcountry ranger in Yosemite.

I loved school as a kid; by the time I was eight, I was reading multiple grade levels above my age group. But moving to the States, I had a harder time. I was lucky to get into an alternative program for juniors in my public school district, called Team. There were only 24 students in the program; we went on backpacking trips and completed internships and volunteering opportunities in addition to regular classes. It was my introduction to something other than the conventional school system, and I thrived. I realized there were other options to education.

That summer, I did a wilderness first responder course, where I met Graeme Rowlands, who told me about Quest. I almost didn’t believe it was real…but in my senior year, I wrote a piece on alternative universities for my high school newspaper and found out more about Quest. I emailed David Helfand after seeing his TEDx Talk on Youtube, to ask if he would be coming to San Francisco. He replied to me personally, and said he was indeed coming in a few weeks, and offered to drive out and meet me to chat. David drove from San Francisco to Marin to meet me for 30 minutes on a bench outside my high school, while I took a break from rehearsals for my school play. What other university president does that? That sold me. I filled out 13 college applications my senior year. I ended up sending just one: Quest. I planned to take years off to work and save up to pay for Quest myself if I had to, because this is where I needed to be. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary.

At first my dad was not sold on Quest, having come from a more traditional education. He conceded after seeing how much it meant to me, but I don’t think he fully understood the appeal until he visited the school and saw the Foundation reading list. He said, “I didn’t have this much reading until grad school. You’re really getting challenged here.” He loves Quest now, and hopes to teach here someday.

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