Oberlin’s 175th Anniversary Commencement/Reunion Weekend was spectacular, with gorgeous weather, great speakers, concerts, events, and outstanding attendance. Thanks to everyone—students, parents, alums, faculty, staff, and families—who attended and to those who worked to make the weekend so special.
Commencement speaker Fareed Zakaria’s speech on global trends and challenges was thought-provoking and inspirational. Thanks to Scott Kalb ’78, Carl Jacobson, Deborah Cocco, and the Shansi Centennial committee for helping bring Zakaria to Oberlin. Thanks also to our distinguished honorees. Carl Read Gerber ’58, Jacquita Robinson Willis, Stuart Card ’66, Gayatri Spivak, Charlene Drew Jarvis ’62, and James McBride ’79 reminded us that one person can indeed change the world. The faces of our graduates and their families radiated that same optimism and determination. That The New York Times published a front-page story Commencement morning about Oberlin’s Student Experiment in Environmental Design (SEED) House was a fine tribute to our students.
Oberlin’s commitment to sustainability was also evident on June 7, during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Phyllis Litoff Building, the new home for the Conservatory’s jazz studies program and the first music facility in the world slated to attain a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. The building, scheduled to open for the 2009-10 academic year, will be fantastic. It was made possible by the generosity of our alumni, particularly major gifts from Stewart Kohl ’77 and his wife, Donna; Clyde McGregor ’74; Joseph Clonick ’57; and James Neumann ’58 and his wife, Susan.
The late William R. Perlik ’48 and his wife, Annabel ’49, have been among Oberlin’s most stalwart supporters for years. I had the honor of helping dedicate the Oberlin Science Center Commons in their name on June 6.
The summer months are a time to reflect on how well Oberlin is doing and the challenges we face, such as ensuring access for worthy students. Just before Commencement, a graduating senior visited me. He excelled at Oberlin and won a prestigious scholarship for students with need to a top law school. Oberlin, he said, had been a superb educational experience.
Then he asked, "Why did Oberlin wait until I was leaving to start a program eliminating loans?" Coming from a family with an annual income under $35,000, a sibling in college, and receiving federal Pell grants, he described the financial burden he felt carrying loans. "You see these glasses?" he asked. "These are reading glasses from the drugstore because I felt I could not afford the prescription glasses I needed." He had not visited a dentist for years because of the cost. He had not applied to one of the top law schools because the application fee was too high. His story reinforced for me how vitally important it is for us to support students with great need.
That is why I am so encouraged by the strong response from alumni to the Oberlin Access Initiative, which will replace student loans with grants for all incoming and current students. Thanks to all who have responded so generously. Nothing is more important than supporting talented students and making their path to education more affordable and accessible. Educational and artistic excellence and access are at the heart of Oberlin’s mission.