How I Almost Didn’t Choose Oberlin (And Why I Still Did)
December 15, 2019
Ilana McNamara ’24
This story is for the students who aren’t sure whether they’ll fit in.
When I first visited Oberlin as a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to eat a meal at a co-op. Oberlin co-ops are truly unlike anything else you will ever experience (If you want to know more, check out other blog posts about co-ops, the OSCA website, or this hilarious, but still pretty accurate 1978 video about co-op life). In a small living room, about 40 students, all dressed in some combination of overalls, flannels, Birkenstocks, interesting socks, and boots were spread out on various couches, chairs, and all over the floor. When the meal was ready, we all went into the kitchen and took a variety of lentils, beans, vegetables, and rice, all meticulously labelled with the ingredients and possible dietary restrictions. Co-op meals are usually very good, and this was no exception.
I didn’t know this at the time, but the co-op was having elections for breadmaker that night. During the meal, about ten students stood up, one at a time, and gave a two-minute speech on why they should be the co-op breadmaker. Some recurring themes: “I’m really busy this semester, and I would really appreciate a flexible hour.” “I’ve made lots of bread in the past, and I would make cinnamon raisin bagels, challah, sourdough, rye, pita, banana bread, gluten-free, vegan, every kind of bread you can imagine for the co-op.” After a brief period of questions for the candidates (“What year are you?” “What other things are you involved in?” “Isn’t everyone here super busy?”), the people running went into another room, while the rest of the co-op had a discussion about the pros and cons of each candidate, including what they had said in their statements and their personalities. Then everyone closed their eyes and raised their hands to vote for who would be the breadmaker. The whole process took over an hour and it was the most democratically socialist thing I had ever seen in my life. And I’ll be honest: I was a little weirded out by all of this.
Throughout high school, I saw myself, and others saw me, as smart, talented, driven. I didn’t show off my weird side, and I didn’t see myself going to a stereotypically “weird” school. Because of this, I kind of dismissed Oberlin throughout my application and audition process as a crazy vegan liberal school where I could never really fit in. When I got my acceptances and figured out which schools were actually feasible, it came down to another small liberal arts college with a lesser known music program, and Oberlin. I visited this other college in the spring on their admitted students day, and it was gorgeous, with everything in bloom, infinitely nicer than Oberlin in February. I really liked their programs and the people there, but their music program wasn’t going to motivate me in the same way. They didn’t have the same level of chamber music (music played in small groups without a conductor), which is something that’s really important to me. It was a really hard decision. Clearly, I chose Oberlin.
A lot of people will tell you that you’ll “just feel” when you’re on the campus where you’re meant to spend your college years. That didn’t happen for me, but through a lot of self-reflection, I’ve realized more and more that I really do belong here. Oberlin is weird, but so am I, and that’s ok to admit to yourself. I thought that I had to be a certain type of person to come here, but Oberlin is also the type of place that will welcome everyone, and encourage everyone to show off their weird side, because, let’s face it, we all have one. I happen to love wearing Birkenstocks and overalls, I have a knack for getting myself involved in a little too much, and I actually joined a co-op, even though I swore I would never. And who knows? Maybe someday I’ll surprise everyone and become the breadmaker myself.