Oberlin Blogs

It was twenty years ago today...

December 14, 2011

Ben Jones ’96

A big (and long overdue) hello to everyone out there, in particular to those of you who are waiting for your ED letters to arrive.

I know how you feel.

In a previous entry I wrote the following about my own applying-to-Oberlin experience:

I remember trying to begin applications to other colleges in case I got deferred, but I couldn’t bring myself to complete any of their questions. I simply didn’t have a second choice. I remember racing home from school on the day decisions were to arrive. I remember opening my letter and reading my offer of admission. I remember what it felt like to know that Oberlin thought we were a good match too. I remember running around the neighborhood screaming like a freak because I simply couldn’t contain myself. I remember calling my parents and trying to calm down enough to speak.

That was exactly twenty years ago today – December 14, 1991.

Happy anniversary, Oberlin.

Twenty years ago I couldn’t imagine loving Oberlin any more than I already did, but I was wrong. Oberlin was a central character in all of those years – not just the four I spent on campus as a student. The place gets into your veins and stays there.

I can tell you exactly where my admit letter is, but I have no idea where my diploma is these days. As I once told Dean of Admissions Debra Chermonte, the former invited me to come to Oberlin and the latter meant I had to leave. Which would you cherish more? (My parents chose the latter, btw. Alas.)

It all worked out; I got to come back in 2008 and – bonus! – now Oberlin pays me. Which brings us to yesterday.

Towards the end of our weekly staff meeting, Dean Chermonte presented me with a surprise packet that included a reprint of my admit letter (with some humorous additions), a beautiful letter from Hannah Serota ’86 (the admissions officer who admitted me) congratulating me on my 20 years as an Obie, a copy of the ’91 viewbook (OMG, so wonderfully dated), and my original application (why this still exists on campus I have no idea).

Back then there was a question that asked “What career or professional plans are you considering?” My answer: “Psychiatrist.” What? I barely made it through Psych 100 (not my fault - the class was at 8:30AM).

And my SAT scores were abysmal. Well, until I remembered that the highest score one could get in those days was 1600, not 2400. :-)

But the best part was re-reading my “Why Oberlin” essay after all this time, and realizing how little has changed. Here’s the last paragraph, written right after my prospie campus visit in 1991:

Those I met at Oberlin were so enthusiastic about their studies and activities. They took great pride in sharing these with me (a prospective student!) – their understanding in a certain class or their love of something outside of class. Oberlin almost by definition is a place that respects people for what they believe in and how they choose to express it. I was so impressed by the college’s history as one of the first to admit African-American students and the first to be coeducational. Tolerance: this is what Oberlin means to me. The environment I encountered – that of openness and communication and warmth – is the environment in which I’d like to live and learn for the next four years.

Nothing has changed, except four years have become... well, eight and counting.

So – if your mailbox brings good news this week, huge congrats to you and welcome to the family. Since we’re twenty years apart, we may wind up at reunions together, and your class will likely steal all of my class’s beer (sorry class of 1976 – we’ll make it up to you at the next one). [Correction: that was the class of 1971’s 25th, my bad. Sorry class of 1971, we’ll make it up to you.]

If your mailbox doesn’t bring the news you were hoping for, however, allow me to share a bit of old-man perspective that I didn’t have twenty years ago: Oberlin, amazing as it is, is not the only amazing institution out there. I’ve had the pleasure of working for others, and I now know that there are places at which I could also have been blissfully happy in college. Make the best of wherever life takes you and the rest will follow.

Best of luck to all of you! And while you wait, enjoy this scanned cover of the ’91 viewbook. OLD-SCHOOL. :-)


A professor in a suit speaks to students around a table. Their clothes are woefully out of date and they all have pencils and paper, no computers. Heading: A Place to Thrive.

P.S. DDubs, if you find any typos, Ma'ayan must have put them in after I published this so you wouldn’t be disappointed. <3

Responses to this Entry

Booker Peek for the WIN!

Posted by: Louis Grube on December 14, 2011 6:08 PM

Not a single typo.

Oh, and I think I still have the (pre-Facebook) facebook from your freshman year. Just in case a little blackmail is ever in order.

Happy Obie anniversary.

Posted by: David on December 14, 2011 6:14 PM

What a beautiful post, Ben, and what a wonderful and fitting gift from Debra and everyone else in admissions.

Posted by: Jenny on December 14, 2011 7:18 PM

You're the coolest.

Posted by: Christina on December 14, 2011 7:29 PM

This is THE CUTEST. If I didn't love Ma'ayan so much, I'd wish you were my boss instead of the boss of my boss.

Posted by: Ida on December 14, 2011 8:40 PM

Great post, Ben! I can safely say getting my ED acceptance letter was a top five worthy moment of my life. My dad ran to get the camera to take a picture of me cheesing with the mail. I can't believe that was six years ago!

Posted by: Alicia Smith on December 14, 2011 8:54 PM

Congrats on making it 20 years. Glad I could be a part of reliving the application you submitted :)

Posted by: Josh on December 14, 2011 9:53 PM

I, for one, am glad you a) preemptively ended your psychiatry career and b) decided to come back. We're lucky to have you!

Posted by: Ezra S '09 on December 14, 2011 11:54 PM

I can't believe that you stole beer from my dad's reunion class. Those old fogies are conniving -- where do you think I learned all my tricks? -- you guys better watch out the next time there's an overlap.

I also want to note that it's a huge comfort to read a segment of your Why Oberlin essay, and that your reasons haven't changed but rather, have strengthened over time. I'm glad you're here.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on December 15, 2011 11:02 AM

I think you guys stole our ('65, '66) beer at the last reunion--not '76. Funny I never heard you complain about it being 3.2. Oh, well, live and learn and labor!

Posted by: Bill Hilton on December 15, 2011 6:01 PM

It was *30* years ago for me and today my daugher was accepted ED to be a member of the class of 2016!

Am I really old enough to have an Obie daughter?

Will she be a Tofu maker? Will she occupy the President's office? Will she get better grades?
I hope so, the grades I mean, occupying the President's office not so much..

Posted by: David Crampton on December 15, 2011 9:57 PM

God, I love you all so much.

Today I went to an alumni day for the magnet school program in my hometown I would have been in had it started up a year earlier. (Any chance to get first gen kids in Virginia to college. Ben, I can hear you cackling from several states away.) Almost all the students came back to discuss how life at UVA, Virginia Tech, or another state university was going...but a kid from Pomona and I air high-fived across the room when I loudly asked the group about class sizes, knowing private liberal arts colleges would win that round.

So I am continuously assured that Oberlin was the best place for me to have been, but that there are plenty of potentially great schools out there for each person. Even if you don't wind up getting admitted immediately, have to do some major familial and economic negotiations, go somewhere else, &/or wind up transferring, you can still grow and wind up happily ever after.

All the Oberlove,

Posted by: Brandi Ferrebee on December 16, 2011 10:22 PM

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