It was 2017 and Evergreen had been without a mascot for more than three years. The previous costume—a glossy green, gold, and silver number affectionately nicknamed “the pickle taco”—had suffered cosmetic damage and put an uncomfortable strain on the wearer’s neck.
A new, redesigned mascot costume referenced the cool beige tones of real geoducks and sported green sneakers and a quilted shell. It was perfect. Now Speedy the Geoduck just needed an actor.
Breanne Johnston ’19 was looking for part-time work that would fit around her studies. When she saw a student job announcement seeking an actor to play a giant, happy shellfish, she knew she was onto something special. She did not then know she would be the first person to give life to a brand-new Speedy and that her performance would set the standard for future actors to follow.
When Johnston pulled the padded head over her shoulders and zipped up the green shell, Speedy came to life.
Because geoducks are non-verbal, Johnston set about creating a pantomime language for Speedy. From high thumbs-up to broad waves and happy jigs, she progressed to crowd-pleasing moves such as riding a unicycle while in costume.
Johnston effused the character with a playful spirit that drew people near. As Speedy, she scanned the audience for shyer bystanders, and took care to draw them in. She marveled at the mascot’s ability to turn strangers into friends sharing a unique moment.
As she prepared to graduate this past spring, Johnston received a unique invitation. Alaska Airlines asked her to write an introduction to Evergreen’s home city for the July 2019 issue of Alaska Beyond, their in-flight magazine.
The piece, titled “Dig Deep into Olympia,” anchored the magazine’s monthly Here and Now column. In it, Johnston leads readers on a tour that begins on the Evergreen beach, winds downtown through the Farmer’s Market and up to the State Capitol, includes lunch at the Plum Street food trucks, and then pauses on 4th Avenue’s Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge to take in views of Budd Inlet, the Olympics, and Mt. Rainier.
In writing the piece, Johnston reflected on her time as Speedy and as a Greener. As she applies this fall to the University of Washington’s Master in Teaching program, a step towards her eventual goal of becoming a middle-school history and English teacher, Johnston thinks fondly of the days she could razz her Evergreen faculty members as the anonymous actor in Speedy’s costume.
With a few wise words, she now passes the beloved character to other student actors. “People really are just wanting connection,” she said. “We’re all wanting to connect with each other and to be seen and to share a smile or a wave. Being Speedy, I really got to see that.”