Falling in Love with Oberlin: Why You Should Stay Open-Minded
November 12, 2018
Emma McIlhagga ’22
So, brief disclaimer, this love story is not as cheesy as a Netflix romcom.
Noah Centineo isn’t involved (a shame, I know), and there isn’t any flirtatious texting going on, no jealous ex-girlfriends, and the only love letter I received was the one that said “Congratulations! You’re in!”. Yes, I’m talking about falling in love with Oberlin.
It was the end of my junior year of high school, and the inevitable College Talk was upon me. My parents sat me down and asked me to research and make a list of schools I wanted to visit, to which I laughed and said, “Oh no, I’m going to Albion College.”
You see, my dad is a professor at Albion College in Michigan, and I lived in Albion for half of my life. My best friend lived there, I knew the town and the school and the professors, I was almost positive I would get in, and I felt extremely comfortable, like I was making the “right” decision.
My parents gave each other a Look that only parents can give, wherein they telepathically exchange some commentary on what I’ve done or said.
“Emma, don’t you want to look at a few other schools, though?”
“Nope. I’m going to Albion.”
Once again, my parents gave each other the Look, then glanced back at me.
“Okay,” they said passively, shrugging their shoulders. “Let us know if you change your mind.”
Haha, very funny, I thought to myself. I had been dead set on going to Albion since I was eight years old. My parents were kidding themselves if they thought I’d go anywhere else.
They continued to nag me throughout the summer, as all loving parents do, and just to humor them, I decided to visit Grand Valley State University in Michigan and Earlham College in Indiana.
After neither of those particularly appealed to me, I used that as evidence that I should just go to Albion, no doubts about it. However, my dad had other ideas—he suggested we just check out a few other schools. I gave the usual “Sure, Dad” that we all give our parents when we are attempting to satiate their wants, and decided to give in and visit one last school. It was this obscure little liberal arts school in Ohio (of all places) called Oberlin.
We made the three and a half hour drive through a gruelling rainstorm, and I remember being curled up with my tattered copy of A Wrinkle in Time, thinking that if the universe was trying to give me a sign that this last school visit wasn't meant to be, this was it.
We pulled off the Ohio Turnpike, and started driving down an extremely long road. A really, really long road. Surrounding us entirely were fields and farms and signs declaring allegiance to Trump and other various awful conservatives. I rolled my eyes, thinking that I was right and this was not the place for me, my dad got it all wrong.
Then, we turned and started heading toward what Google Maps told us was our destination: Oberlin College. I stared out the window and saw a change of scenery so quick, you could have blinked and missed it. It was like someone drew a line in the ground between Oberlin and everywhere else. Suddenly, there were houses settled comfortably next to each other, lining the streets. The rain had just finished up, the sun was peeking through the trees, and there were children riding their bikes, couples walking dogs ... it seemed almost too perfect. It was at this point that I started to realize that I might actually like this place. But it wasn’t like I was going to tell my dad that (yet).
We arrived and were greeted by admissions representatives who smiled and asked my name and pronouns, and asked how I was doing, not just as a greeting but because they genuinely wanted to know how I was doing.
I’m going to be honest. I don’t remember many of the group meetings or the speeches or the lunches, but what I do remember most clearly is the campus tour. It was fall, and we walked through Tappan Square, down the long diagonal path that leads from downtown toward North Campus.
As I was walking, I remember watching bikers whiz past and students in clusters laughing with each other as they made their way to class or to lunch. Multiple friends of my tour guide stopped to greet her and say hi, not only to her but to our group. Our tour guide waved to a couple of professors walking by, and pointed out buildings where she had classes or where she spent a lot of her time studying, her dorm where she lived her first year.
And suddenly, I got this gut feeling. Call me crazy, I know. I didn’t believe it at first, either. But I swear to you, it was a gut feeling. Something just felt right about walking down South Professor and tucking my hands into my jacket pocket as we moved to our next destination. I don’t know how to describe it other than I just felt like I was in a good place. Something about it didn’t make me feel as distant and removed as I had when I was visiting other schools.
I felt at home.
Fast forward to decision day, when I began ugly happy-sobbing at the lunch table when my application portal read “Congratulations, you’re in!,” (This is a quick reminder to check all of your email folders, including the ones that automatically filter and don’t notify you. You might receive an important, life-changing email and not realize it until two days later.)
Then it was admitted students visit weekend, and every single experience I had only reminded me of why I loved Oberlin so much and made my deep ache for the upcoming months to go by as quickly as possible.
Then came move-in day, when I made four friends right off the bat. I didn’t even cry when my parents left, because somehow, I already felt at home.
And this, dear reader, is why you should remain open-minded. Don’t be extremely stubborn like I was (sorry, Dad). Explore the possibilities the world has to offer you. Because if you do that, you’ll find the place you’ll love, the place you’ll miss, the place you’ll call home.