Oberlin Blogs

Goodbye Oberlin, Hello Unknown

May 8, 2018

“I really need a banana. I need water and a banana. Does anyone have a banana? Can you see if my mom has a banana?”

No one had a banana. It was 4:32, and it was time to get onstage for my senior recital.

“What do I think about when I’m playing?” Hands fidgeting, legs shaking, I posed the question to my backstage support team of friends just to fill the anxious space.

“The music,” answered a friend.

“That’s hard.” And truly, it was hard, especially once I reached the last page of my last piece, when all I could think was “this is the end.” It was not just the end of a recital, but the end of a certain chapter of my life.

There’s something so highly vulnerable about outpouring months of work and all these pieces of oneself onto the stage of a concert hall. The end of something that sweeps by so quickly is striking to say the least, and it feels that these last 3 years swept by just as quickly as my 50-minute senior recital.

For the past three years, I have been opening music books, feeding scores into my head, taking pieces of music and making them a part of me. Success has been determined for me by grades, feedback, achievements, and performance satisfaction. Something I've realized as the end draws nearer is that success won't always be defined in this way. Someday, my perception of success won't be determined by a good piano lesson or a bad piano lesson.

After my junior recital, I had a particular reassurance that the things I wasn't as happy with were things I could continue to work on in my lessons. After my senior recital, I realized that this isn’t the same case. My lessons were over. I will still continue to grow but this growth will happen in a different setting, a different context, and maybe in a different direction from the one that I had determined for myself when I began as a student here.

I will miss studying with Alvin Chow tremendously. He has been an incredible piano teacher for me here. One of the most important considerations for students entering a Bachelor of Music program is finding a teacher who is right for you. I couldn't have had a better situation. Professor Chow pushes me constantly while encouraging such a healthy growth mindset. He motivates his students to replicate what they do well and pushes them to improve what they don’t.

In the last three years, he has worked with me to improve the efficiency of my practicing at the piano. Instead of merely playing through my pieces mindlessly, I feel so much better equipped to approach individual passages carefully and set both goals and limits on my practicing. Professor Chow has also helped me to improve my control of sound and, most significantly, has guided me into making my own informed musical decisions.

Musicians often get asked the question, “Okay, so, what are you going to do with this degree?” Even I am asking myself that question a lot right now. Perhaps I’m not ready to jump right out of college and land a full-time job, because this is one milestone within my educational journey and that journey isn’t over yet.

I've gotten so many questions about my plan next year, and it's about as uncertain as Ohio's spring climate. The future is scary. The unknown is exciting. I’m taking a gap year, which means that next year I won’t be guided by an institution. Educational institutions have been my navigation tool since I was four years old. In a couple of weeks, professors will no longer be telling me how to best get from point A to point B, my best friends won't be built into my schedule, and I will be forced to determine what success means for myself.

I feel like the packing has already started. I can feel three years of memories being packaged nicely into last celebrations and final installments of every old tradition, merely waiting to be topped with a diploma. It seems that no time has passed since I graduated high school. Am I only walking on an extension of where I stood three years ago? I’m in a different place, but the sensations are the same. The weather is warm, and my heart is warm with that bittersweet precursor to nostalgia. There is so much joy and support in my life that in a few weeks will be redefined as I let go of these old routines and replace them with new ones.

Although that warm, nostalgic, take-as-many-pictures-as-you-can, celebrate/say goodbye/hold onto everything feeling is the same one I felt three years ago, there still is something different about this graduation. I had a whole three months after my high school graduation to say goodbye to friends before going to college. I had the chance to see them again when I came home to visit family. After I finished high school, I knew I would be put in the hands of a college, into the guidance of a piano professor, and into a community where everyone felt just as lost as myself.

My friends are buying their plane tickets home. Some of them have already left. Commencement isn’t just an end to my studies but also a goodbye to many of the amazing people I’ve adopted into my family for the last three years. It’s strange to watch friends as they prepare to move forward down their own paths, whether anxious, excited, or a little bit of both. I believe we must all share that feeling, and yet we carry our identical fears and our shared eagerness in different directions. Right now it feels like an end of a chapter, but only because the future is so uncertain.

However, the foundation we’ve built here is concrete. I’m proud of the way this school has shaped me into being unashamedly myself. It’s been a place where I could safely explore my own potential: where I could pick up a new instrument (the organ, which I am going to continue playing for the rest of my life!!!); spontaneously decide to take a 6-day backpacking trip with strangers; paint myself red for Halloween, dye my hair blue for drag ball, and pour glitter all over myself for my senior recital; present a business pitch in front of investors; and so much more. It is a place where I’ve learned you can be changed for the better and hurt for the better all in the same span of time.

I’m trying to end this post on an optimistic note, because even though I can’t internalize it, I know that the anxiety I have about the future right now is a blessing. The unknown is a gift to be embraced. The person I was three years ago couldn’t have anticipated the person I am now. I couldn’t have foreseen the joys, the pain, or the 180-degree pivots; yet I am so grateful for how the unexpected has strengthened me, how my failures have humbled me, and how each struggle has grounded me. I say my farewells with gratitude, not because everything was perfect, but because there’s nothing to really say goodbye to. These three years move forward with me like the soles of my shoes, as I step into the great big unknown.

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