It's May 2nd, and First Lady Michelle Obama is in San Antonio to speak at the city's Signing Day. As part of her work celebrating higher education and access, the First Lady and her office are asking educators and others across the US to wear their college gear. The goal is to encourage students to #ReachHigher, and you can already see the outpouring of support on Facebook, instagram, and twitter. (Seriously. It's inspiring.)
At Oberlin, we're wrapping up our admissions season. For first-year students, May 1st is The Big Day. You've deliberated over decision letters, read the financial aid offers, visited various college campuses for the admitted students programs, and finally sent your deposits in.
On our side, we've answered questions, met you on campus (and tried not to freak you out too much by remembering All The Details Of Your Life, As Provided By Your Common Applications), and agonized as we waited for your decisions to come back. It's a heartbreaking time for us: we swoon over the students who have decided to come to Oberlin, and commiserate with each other over those who have decided to enroll elsewhere.
We fell in love--or at least into deep affection--with you during reading season, and some of you will choose to go elsewhere.
It happens. We know it happens. The piece that matters is that each student find the place that fits them, and where they feel they fit best. It might not be Oberlin, and that's okay. Because the heartening thing about this whole process, for me at least, is something I've been thinking about for a while. Here it is, my big revelation:
There is no perfect college.
At an event for parents last fall, Susan Colley (chair of our math department) said this about five different times. It bears repeating. There is no perfect college.
You may fall in love with a college, but that doesn't make it perfect (though it will hopefully still be perfect for you!). There will be something you won't like. It might be your roommate. The smell of the chem department. The pesky quantitative skills requirement. A swim test you have to take. The length of the winter. The humidity in the summer. Pasta night at the dining hall. Something.
Or you might end up going to your second- or third-choice college, a college you put a bit further down on your list because, at first glance or first visit, it didn't read as perfect for you. But you get to college, and you meet your amazing roommate, and you find a wonderful faculty mentor, and you join clubs that encourage you to develop yourself in ways you'd never imagined possible... And that imperfect college is suddenly the best choice you ever made.
There is no perfect college.
What there is is the experience of college, and you get to script that for yourself. It's a journey you have to take alone, but the reward is learning that you can do it, and in the process you also find the places where you fit.
You don't know who you're going to be one week into your college life, much less the week before graduation. You don't know which activities/clubs/classes are going to offer you opportunities for growth, and you don't know where you'll make your homes. And you will make homes, lots of them. You'll build homes in physical places, with other people, in books and adventures and memories.
The lead-up to May 1st--all the work of this past year, the road trips and visits and essays and patience and agonizing wait--all of that is preparation for home-building. The next four years, wherever they may take you, are about solidifying that fit and that feeling of belonging.
Griff Radulski put it beautifully in his latest blog: "I may not belong at a liberal arts college, but I belong here."
That's powerful. Finding a place where you belong is paramount in the college search. Where will you thrive? Where will you be challenged to become something greater than you'd imagined for yourself? Where will you be invited to explore, expand your knowledges, experiment with a range of activities, voices, departments, and questions?
These are the things I want to present to each of you, these intangible challenges. When you look out at the next four years, keep a good look at that horizon. It's going to change--as you, too, will change--but please, please keep reaching for it.
I'm always an emotional wreck right after May 1st, when we find out who has decided to enroll and who will be building their homes elsewhere. At the close of the day this year, I received an email from a student I had called in 2008 and offered a spot off the waitlist. He emailed to say thank you for the call, and to tell me he is loving his current job. He's being mentored by an alum and getting the chance to actively pursue ideas he was just beginning to engage with in college.
And that, that is why I work in admissions. The admissions stories are not fairy tales, but they are beautiful. You will build homes, you will find your passions and chase them down, and I will cheer you on through each part of that journey.
As a thank you for putting up with this emotional blog (I AM SO SORRY), here's this:
And remember, reach higher. Ever, ever higher.