At the beginning of the summer, I wrote about a stack of illustrated letters I had received in the spring from a group of second-graders in Texas. I asked the Oberlin community to join me in writing back to them, and the response was overwhelming (oberwhelming?). Students, bloggers, professors, staff members, admissions officers, and parents sent me hand-written or typed-up letters to be mailed back.
The spirit of encouragement in these letters was also overwhelming. Some of my favorite pieces of advice for the young scholars included the following:
"Keep on asking lots of questions, keep on being curious about the things that you are learning about in school, and keep on figuring out the ways that you can make the best world for you, your friends, and your family. College will help you do all of those things even more, but why wait?" - Ma'ayan Plaut
"College was harder than anything else I've ever done, but it was also more awesome than anything else I've ever done. I started thinking seriously about big things, like why is life so unfair? And how can I fix it? I started to find answers to those questions, too, and I am starting to make the world a better place, one step at a time. The friends I made in college are helping me." - Ida Hoequist
"Believe in yourself and believe in your future. If you really want something, you can get it. The one thing that matters the most in school is that you try your best at everything you do." - Leslie Braat
"Why should you go to college? To meet your life-long friends. To learn lots of cool things. To cheer for your school's football/soccer/tennis/track team. To study with professors who will blow your minds with new ways to think about everyday topics. To eat whatever you want, whenever you want. To lay on the grass and look at clouds. To play in the snow or rain. To make a difference in the life of someone else." - Josh Levy
Pleased beyond belief, I sent the package off, having stuffed it full of goodies like the letters themselves, a copy of the Conservatory recording of The Sneetches, and a pennant.
And I plotted.
The care package, about to be mailed.
I had this crazy idea that, while I was in Texas traveling for the admissions office, I could meet up with the second graders' teacher and see if there was any kind of encouragement that Oberlin could provide for her new students. Skype dates? More materials? More letters?
What she offered blew my mind.
"Why not come visit the students themselves?"
And so, on Friday morning, I sat myself down with a group of about thirty-five squirming, excited, smiling, giddy second-graders. They called me "Miss Tanya" and reverently squished the squishy albino squirrel I sent around. They sat on each other. They poked each other. They didn't have a sense of personal space and I loved it.
Their questions went something like this:
"Miss Tanya, did you ever play soccer when you were a kid?"
"Do you have recess at Oberlin?"
"Is there hot cocoa?"
"Do you have dance? Can I show you my dance?"
[This was accompanied by a definite increase in squirming.]
"Can I go to another country?"
"Do you have experiments?"
"Will I have my own room?"
"I heard... I heard... I don't have a question."
"What do your clubs look like?"
"Why is the squirrel white?"
The half hour I spent with them was amazing. Their teacher, it turns out, is an Oberlin grad. She has her room decked out with various pieces of Oberlin gear, and the students call themselves "Obies" when they get together for early-morning roll call (I witnessed this; it was great). Most importantly, they're seven years old, and college is something real and reachable to them.
At the end, as the second-graders marched off to breakfast, two third-graders came into the room. They were two of the original letter-writers, the ones who kicked off this whole awesome adventure. One of them spoke into his shirt for the five minutes I had with them, the tips of his ears bright pink. The other couldn't contain her excitement, and bubbled over with her plans to study fashion and drawing and go to college to be a designer. I told them how much I appreciated their letters and high-fived them both as they scampered away.
The motto for 4th grade is "Improve the World." How Obie!
Why do I love my job? Because of moments like these, when I get to sit down with students and talk about opportunities. It doesn't have to be about Oberlin, because not everyone would be happy at Oberlin. What matters to me is that I get to be a resource and that I get to tell you that college is possible, and immediate, and wonderful. And if you're seven or seventeen, know that college is a place where you will be challenged to ask difficult questions, learn how to learn, begin to understand yourself and your world in very different ways, and, through this amazing process, be transformed.