As I end my third semester at Oberlin College, I’m amazed by how the campus seems to be an entirely new place all over again. Everywhere I look, first-year students are reaching out, trying new things, and figuring out what they want to be in this space. The college is bustling with activity and life. Performers of all different genres and styles exhibit a semester’s worth of work, of opportunities that they made the most of. In many ways, it reminds me of the reason I chose Oberlin as a prospective student: Oberlin is a place full of opportunities. So many that it is impossible to seize them all.
Whether it’s balancing a late-night grub session at fourth meal and the essay due Tuesday or balancing work and a student organization, Obies (slang for Oberlin students) stay busy. The quick pace of the campus and the endlessly double-booked events are part of the campus charm. They are also part of one of the most challenging problems I’ve encountered at Oberlin. They feed into a growing sense of imposter syndrome— the unshakeable feeling that one doesn’t belong and soon will be exposed as an imposter. I particularly feel it concerning my many responsibilities on campus. As I effortlessly navigate my favorite classes, my attendance slips in other courses, and I procrastinate on posting blogs for my new job. It seems that even the power of Google Calendar (an Oberlin favorite) is not enough to organize all of the endless activities of Oberlin College. It appears that I, and many students like me, are destined to have our share of late starts.
What does it mean to have a late start? When I first arrived at Oberlin, I thought that it meant the literal end of my world. I believed that I had to get my goals figured out as soon as possible, that I never had enough time to explore or change my mind. Perhaps worst of all, I believed that exploring was a waste of my time. The curiosity inherent to a liberal arts education seemed lost to me, obscured behind layers of my assumptions about the competitiveness of Oberlin and my self-doubt. When I finally realized I had time to consider my options, I was halfway through my first semester of my second year. Suddenly, college seemed like only part of the path. There, just on the side of the road, lay alternative pathways. Through my awareness, I began to travel them.
Perhaps the most significant change of this semester was my declaration of a second major. After declaring Politics earlier this fall, I convinced myself that I didn’t have time for any other area of study. Furthermore, I only need to figure out one major by the end of my second year. Double majoring felt like bargaining away time I hadn’t made for myself in my studies. It questioned everything I believed I was meant to be doing. Politics made sense as a major. It rolled off the tongue, the classes were engaging, and I felt good about what I was learning. Creative writing, on the other hand, was the embodiment of uncertainty. As one of the majors that has a true application process, creative writing seemed like an impossibility. The competitiveness of getting into the major ran contrary to my deepest desire: escaping the competitiveness of Oberlin. However, on the day of the application deadline, I started to apply.
I typed shakily, unsure if I had made the right choice. I thought about all the reasons I shouldn’t try for something new. After all, so many students probably started much earlier than I did. What made me think that I had any chance at all? The words piled up on the page until the questions were all answered, and my 15-page portfolio was full. After a quick scroll through the page, I crossed my fingers and clicked submit. By mid-November, I had been accepted into the creative writing major. Suddenly, I had become a double major. The only task left was to finish the form to declare officially.
Yet again, I got a late start to declaring. As I write this, I still haven’t turned my completed form in. I look forward to putting my form in the Registrar’s box today. Part of me still doesn’t believe that I got into the major I’ve been thinking about since eighth grade. Another part of me, the louder one, is happily dancing their way through the end of the semester. Each semester at Oberlin feels as though it is drawing me closer to what I want to do and who I really want to be. While college seems to fly by, there is still more than enough time to be curious, take chances, and follow my dreams.
So, what does a late start actually mean here at Oberlin? I think that it means another opportunity seized and another opportunity made. It is hard and heartfelt. It suggests that there may be more time.