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Empty-Nest Anxiety

May 9, 2011

The end of the academic year always brings a sense of loss, an annual attack of empty-nest anxiety. We think about the graduating seniors and heave a sigh. "What are we going to do?" we ask each other. "We'll never get a bunch of kids as good as these ones..."

The fact that this happens every single year shows that this is entirely in our heads. (Fortunately we're not the only deluded ones: every senior class in living memory has complained that the incoming first-years are too boring or conservative.)

What is true, though, is that every year Oberlin produces a crop of fantastic graduates. (Last month's journalism symposium, which brought back Obie alumni working for newspapers, magazines, and the radio, was a great moment of institutional pride.) As faculty, we would love to take credit for our graduates' brilliance, commitment, and creativity. But even if our students and their parents are kind enough not to pop that illusion, I suspect that the truth is different. For one, our students are pretty darn amazing when they get here. For another thing, it's good to remember that students do a whole lot of growing off campus, especially during study abroad. Finally, our students owe their personal and intellectual growth as much to each other as to us. It's the students who are most responsible for creating Oberlin's extraordinary environment--and for allowing and encouraging each other to grow and explore. In the end, it's the faculty who have the best gig: you all only get to enjoy this place for four years--but we get to stay as long as we want.

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