Penguin Nation

Former Penguin historical images

Oswald the Penguin has been Clark College's mascot since the college was first founded—in fact, he was donated by the college's very first student—and he has been embraced by the college community ever since. Over the years, Oswald has shown up in yearbooks, athletic events, music videos—even topiary! Students can often be seen sporting penguin-emblazoned shirts as they walk around campus. Clark's sports teams are all called the Penguins, and the college community is often nicknamed the "Penguin Nation."  

Learn more about the Penguin Nation:

Where did Oswald come from?

In a letter dated May 2, 1983, Larry Rakestraw, the only student to enroll the college on its first day of registration (September 28, 1933), described the mascot's history.

I received on Christmas, 1932, a wooden penguin, about four inches high, blue coat, with articulated legs.  If placed on an incline, it would walk down the slope with the determined but uncertain gait of a sailor on shore leave.  I took it along when I went to Clark.

One evening in the fall of 1933, I removed a leaf from the study table in the Hidden House library, placed the leaf on a pile of books, and was walking the penguin when the Dean, Robert T. Oliver, walked in. "Aha, Oswald, the Blue Penguin!", he exclaimed; and I realized at once that Oswald was the proper name for the bird. "The college needs a mascot," Oliver went on, "Would you be willing to donate Oswald?" and I agreed.

Oswald the Blue Penguin occupied a place of honor on the mantelpiece of the fireplace at Hidden House while I was there, 1933-35, and while my wife was there, 1935-37. 

How has Oswald changed?

Over the years, Oswald has been imagined, re-imagined, and re-reimagined by generations of Clark students, staff, and faculty.

The 1950 issue of the Galapagon yearbook featured a whimsical view of how Oswald made his way from Antarctica to the Galapagon Islands to Clark College. The 1965 Galapagon yearbook also paid tribute to Oswald's arrival at Clark College. In the 1966 Galapagon yearbook, editor Linda Howard shared an alternate version of the origins of Oswald that has also lived on over the years.  Generally, the Larry Rakestraw version is viewed as the correct historical origin of the college mascot.

In 2001, a new official Oswald mascot—dressed in career-ready tie and running shoes—was introduced. In 2012, Clark Athletics commissioned a new, sleeker penguin logo to use on team uniforms. This new iteration of Oswald has rapidly gained popularity within the Penguin Nation, and the Clark College Bookstore now sells many products with this logo.

In 2018, Oswald was re-imagined yet again to create a mascot uniform that allowed easier mobility, seen below. It is this version of Oswald who can often be seen greeting guests at college events, cheering on the college's athletic teams, and posing for pictures at family-friendly college celebrations like our Sakura Festival and Native American Powwow.

Oswald often accompanies his friends on their travels. Find pictures of Oswald from around the world in his Flickr album.


Oswald the MascotWhat kind of penguin is Oswald?

This is a tricky question. Oswald was originally called a Blue Penguin, in reference to the color of Larry Rakestraw's wooden figurine. Blue (or "little") penguins live in New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Chile.

But as early as 1937, students deemed Oswald to be a Galapagos penguin, the rarest of all 17 living species of penguin. Indeed, the college's yearbook was called The Galapagon in tribute to Oswald's origin. Yet even then, Oswald's story tended to get convoluted: According to many fanciful accounts in student yearbooks and newspapers, he started life in the Antarctic and then relocated to Galapagos and, eventually, Vancouver, in his quest to attain a college education.

Various depictions of Oswald over the years have made him look more like an Emperor, Adelie, Galapagos, or Royal penguin—among others. Perhaps he is an entirely new, as-yet undocumented species: The Vancouver penguin, whose appearance and mannerisms are as diverse as those of the people who live here.

Why a penguin?

While Oswald occasionally prompts quizzical skepticism from newcomers—why a penguin and not some animal native to the Pacific Northwest?—others have argued that the penguin is an apt symbol for our student body. Penguins are tough, able to thrive in situations where others would perish. Industrious and resourceful, they can dive to depths of up to 1800 feet and stay underwater for more than 20 minutes. Penguins are community-minded and possess strong communication skills. And like more than a quarter of our student body, they are devoted parents.