Oberlin Blogs

Full Circle: The Waitlist

May 26, 2024

Ben Smith ’24

One of my earliest and most vivid Oberlin memories is applying to be a blogger my first semester. It was the one job I knew I wanted to do before I arrived here. Being a conservatory-admit from the waitlist, I felt like I had a lot to say on the matter, and well, my first blog proved that (and in far too many words).

This leads me to my current position: being admitted off yet another waitlist (!), which leads me to say…

I’m pursuing my Master’s of Music in Flute Performance
at the Yale School of Music in the fall!

Okay, whew, now that that is out of the way, I can give this perfectly coherent recollection of my ~journey~ at Oberlin... is what I would say if it weren’t for the fact that I have no idea how to do that. 

While the start of a new chapter is exciting, I have to admit that I’ve been racking my brain the past few months on how to make a gobstopping, beautifully thought-out farewell blog to wrap up everything at Oberlin. But let’s face it: it’s the end of May. The semester is over and if an idea was going to come down and smack me in the face, I’m guessing it would’ve done so by now. I've accepted the fact that I don't really know how to parse through all my thoughts towards Oberlin. The thought process goes something like this: four years is a long time; my feelings are mixed; it'd probably take more than one blog to summarize; a series of goodbye posts feels way too serious; I don't have time to do all that now; and... you get the gist.

The one thing I do know is that I am grateful for my time here. I still don't mention my blogs in 'real life' all that often, but that said, I want to use this space one last time to thank the very wonderful people who have made Oberlin special to me. It just feels like the most fitting way to wrap this whole shindig up. So, I'm going to be personally (and publically) giving all of these people some well-deserved recognition. Because although the degree I'm receiving was all about studying the flute, the lessons these people taught me extend beyond just music. 

*cue fitting end-credit track*

Firstly, I want to thank Ben Jones and all the Oberlin college blogging staff.

These blogs have been a time capsule for me the past four years. I’m always going to be grateful that I had this place to throw my thoughts out into the void for anyone to stumble upon. I write these the way I write in my own personal journal, so I’ve always been surprised every time someone mentions having read one of these blogs, but it really does make me happy. I’ve made some of the sweetest friends through the blogs (Hi Sean), and knowing I was able to somehow help someone know more about Oberlin/write something that someone found relatable/anything along those lines, it has meant a lot to me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that.

Now I want to thank my flute professor, Alexa Still.

First, thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to Oberlin. I’ve been able to do some of the most wonderful things the past four years, and you supported me every single time I posed an idea to you. It was the type of support that I can only describe as a quiet confidence; you never wavered after I threw an idea at you and believed in me, even when I doubted myself. Through my studies with you the past four years, I’ve improved a lot at being self-reliant (and, equally, knowing when to ask for help). I actually got to the point where I believe in myself now. When I was considering all the alternatives of going to graduate school, I knew that no matter what this next chapter had in store for me, I was going to be able to figure it out, and I wouldn’t have thought like that if I hadn’t learned it from you. Also, I cannot even begin to thank you for all the times you've dealt with me in panic mode over my flute, so here's to hoping that I am the last student of yours to drop their flute before their first orchestra rehearsal freshman year...

In line next is my body mapping professor, Kelly Mollnow Wilson.

It'd take me forever to summarize the journey I've had with performance and all the aspects that go into it, but that journey would look so incredibly different if I didn't have you in it. Although I may have hid it well, I was a real mental mess when I got to Oberlin. You approached me (and every student) in such a down-to-earth and personable way. I felt like I could just be myself and not have to worry so much about what someone else was thinking. Who would have thought that idea has the same power on stage! Certainly not me. Your work changed how I approach the relationship between myself and the flute. The internal dialouge I have with myself before, during, and after a performance is no longer inundated with so much negativity and fear. On most days, there's some joy in that process now! I'm still a work in progress, but what you did for me was so impactful and I am extremely grateful for your guidance. Thank you. 

Next I’d like to say a huge thank you to the professors who helped me get to Korea, Professor Deppman and Professor Jager.

Both of you were so encouraging throughout my early days as a study abroad hopeful. I was incredibly fortunate to have had your support during my first and second years, a time when I was still completely clueless about how to navigate the process. Your encouragement meant so much to me. My life changed a lot because of my time abroad. I've now been able to study in Korea twice throughout my time at Oberlin, which I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. Thank you both so much.

Following are my chamber music coaches, Drew Pattison and Richard Hawkins

My chamber music experiences at Oberlin are some of my most cherished musical memories. Part of what made me feel a sense of community at Oberlin was playing chamber music. It always reminded me of why I chose to go into music, to connect with other people. You both inspired me and pushed me to learn how to connect with others even more, especially learning how to be a good colleague. Turns out that's a very applicable skill, no matter if you're making music with people or just existing in the world. You are both wonderful examples of that: incredible musicians who double equally as incredible people. I'm going to miss the coachings we had, but I'm so grateful for each of them. Thank you both.

On the docket next are Maestros Raphael Jimenez and Tim Weiss.

I feel like it almost goes without saying that being part of the incoming 2020 class meant that the ensemble experience at Oberlin was certainly... different. While we all know this to be true now, I grew a lot during that strange time. It was some of the hardest music I've ever played, and in some of the strangest conditions. Even when I was way out of my comfort zone, you both were so encouraging throughout all of it. I was a little nervous what it would be like to return to Oberlin after studying abroad, but you were both so welcoming to me; I felt like I hadn't even left. I've had such a support system whenever I was in OO/CME/CO/SO, and I'm always going to remember what that feels like. Thank you so much for giving me the opprotunity to grow.

Alright so now I’m addressing my studiomates, so let's move the imaginary spotlight onto them. 

So honestly, I have no idea how many of you know that I write stuff on occasion, but I just want to say thank you for giving me a great final year at Oberlin. It’s a small place that can feel stuffy (as we are all well aware of), but you all are going to make saying goodbye harder than I thought. I remember exactly what it was like to look up to the seniors when I first got to Oberlin. I never pictured myself being in that sort of position, but having you all in my corner as I went through the ups and downs of this year was so heartwarming. You made all the seniors this year feel special. I’m proud to have been a part of this studio, and you are all going to do amazing things at Oberlin and beyond. <3

And last but certainly not least, to all the dear friends that I’ve made at Oberlin. If I’ve sent this to you, then you can pretend that we are sitting across from each other at a big round table in a mythical coffee shop and I’ve just pulled out a magical scroll that reads the following: 

Thank you for being there for me these past few years. Whether I got close to you this semester or whether I met you day one (Hi Michelle), you’ve shown me that it’s the people that make this place what it is. Being in the middle of Ohio is certainly a strange, strange experience, but I wouldn't have wanted to experience it with anyone else. I'm going to treasure the friendships I've made here, so thank you all for being the people that you are. *cue big group hug* 

Okay, there's one last thing I'd like to discuss before I drop off the face of the planet. I have no idea how long this will keep up for, but face cutouts were a thing that became an accidental trend at the conservatory throughout the 2023-24 academic year. I've chosen this as the place where it is in writing that the genesis of that idea came from yours truly. It was my fervent belief that a sea of face cutouts in Finney Chapel was the only acceptable form of celebration for one of my closest friend's (Hi Daphne) final OO concert. Seeing other people make face cutouts for their friends during the year and even having one of my own was just so sweet, and it makes me smile every time I think about it. I'm sure every Obie will have their fair share of Oberlinisms which will create the same effect.

All in all, my whole Oberlin experience was one big surprise. From being on the waitlist to imposter syndrome to studying abroad to coming back and feeling like I belonged, Oberlin taught me that a "who knows what's going to happen!" sort of attitude goes a long way. In all of that, though, there are so many reasons to smile. So, Oberlin, you weird bubble you, thank you for the last four years.

Myself and Michelle Jia Yun Xu bowing together in Finney Chapel.
Here's to the next adventure.
Photo Credit: Lucy Kim, 2024 Commencement Recital I


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