A Student Perspective
We "the People"
Why did you come to Oberlin?
This is a question that every Oberlin student has answered (and probably asked) countless times. Its popularity as an icebreaker is surpassed only by the old war-horses "What's your major?" and "Where are you from?"
The answers are generally what you would expect: an excellent academic reputation, a world-renowned music conservatory, and small classes. Still, there is another response that occurs even more often. An Oberlin Online "Question of the Week" posed the query of "Why Oberlin?" to the on-line community a few months ago, and most of the responses echoed the following excerpts: "Everybody here cares passionately about something;" "Intelligent, interesting people who are out to learn;" "The unique student body;" or, simply, "The people." The people--the students, faculty, and staff whose ideas, attitudes, and intellectual and personal fire have shaped and continue to shape what Oberlin is and will become--are what continues to draw its unique population.
In this respect, Oberlin is, I think, quite different from many other institutions. Other schools attract students with the glamour of their names or excellent training in specialized areas or splashy brochures and successful sports teams. Sure, Oberlin has its share of these, but how many other schools draw students on the strength of a collective personality? A friend from high school took the opposite path from most Obies. He applied early to a prestigious Ivy League institution based solely on name recognition and without visiting the campus. He arrived that fall and discovered that the campus atmosphere was not exactly what he was looking for. His classes were huge, and life was dictated by the Greek organizations. He stuck it out and graduated this spring with honors, but I can't help thinking that in some sense my friend wasted his education, despite the fact that the little raised seal on his degree supposedly makes that piece of paper more valuable than gold.
In the Middle Ages, the first universities consisted not of lecture halls and campus grounds, but of teachers and the students who followed them as they traveled the countryside. Oberlin, I think, could be the modern counterpart to those early universities. Its location--a small Midwestern town that smells vaguely of cow manure when the wind blows from the south--is certainly not enough to coax the legions of students from New York, Boston, and the eight corners of the world who appear here each fall; rather, like those itinerant scholars, our lessons occur as often outside the classroom as inside, and we are drawn to Oberlin by the people who will teach us. Unlike those early students, however, it is our peers from whom we seek to learn as much as from our professors: everyone here is both teacher and student.
Aaron Rester graduated