Oberlin Blogs

My Opening Farewell

May 17, 2021

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

There is a song I really like by Alison Krauss and Union Station, from the album Paper Airplane, called “My Opening Farewell.” It’s about two lovers parting, the sort of melancholic folk song I enjoy listening to. Now that Commencement is over, my parents have come and gone, and I prepare to depart Oberlin for an indefinite amount of time, the song feels more poignant than usual. The chorus goes like this: 

 

Suddenly it's so hard to find
The words that would help me speak my troubled mind
He’s offering these to me as if to be kind:
There is a train everyday leaving either way
There is a train everyday leaving either way
There is a world, you know
And there is a way to go
And we'll soon be gone, it's just as well
This is my opening farewell

 

I like these lyrics because they honor the difficulty of an ending while also acknowledging its impermanence. There’s a train every day. It goes both directions. There’s a world, a way to go: endings are ok, they are beautiful. When one thing closes, another opens. 

I’ve often thought about the duality of endings and beginnings.  After I had to leave Berlin because of the pandemic, I wrote an essay (which you can read here) meditating on loss of place and ownership of space, and permanence and impermanence. The ending paragraph, though about a wildly different sense of circumstances, still applies in a lot of ways: 

“And what could the beginning of an ending mean other than an opportunity for new growth? For new buds and leaves on trees, new learning and new relationships, and a seemingly endless supply of new words to describe all the things I feel and know now? My last moments in Berlin were precious, no matter how quotidian. Each moment in a German park, each time I got on a train, each walk down my street and up the stairs to my attic room became imbued with meaning. I knew that it all was drawing to a close, and while I wasn’t emotionally ready for the abrupt return home, it was the finite-ness of these moments that gave them value, not their contents. Of course, this should be the mindset always: that everything is finite, so we should appreciate it. The shining moments of Dasein [pure existence] are what make life worth living, and what made Berlin worth leaving. I’m thankful for Berlin and the time I spent there… As I walked in the infant Berlin springtime and saw the flowers start to bloom, I was cognizant of the sense of renewal around me. Endings engender beginnings, and vice versa.”

With just a few substitutions and eliminations, this paragraph could easily have been written by me today, about Oberlin. Given the whirlwind of the past week, I honestly haven’t had much time to process anything that’s happened. Now that the mad rush has ended, I find myself wanting to process everything, to try to distill my experience here into a neat little narrative, which I know is impossible. But at the same time, I am hyper-aware of the little things, just as I was before leaving Berlin. The context is different, because I have over a week in Oberlin until I embark on my journey home, but the feeling still applies. Everything feels a little more special, a little more imbued with meaning, because I know that I can’t—and don't want to—take it for granted anymore. Among all of these feelings I'm also aware of how things are about to change, for better or for worse. Endings engender beginnings, and vice versa. 

It’s hard to write my last post for the Oberlin blogs. There’s a lot I feel I want to say, and also too much to even attempt it. I’ve been a blogger since I was a first-year, and the blogs were instrumental in attracting me to Oberlin and showing me what kind of experience I could have here. Becoming a blogger was my way of providing stories to prospective students, as well as a way to process and remember my own Oberlin experiences as I went through my time here. Through 65 (sixty-five!!!) blog posts, I narrated, explored, processed, introspected, and tried to capture my Oberlin. I thought of a few ways to write a final post, but in the end, a letter felt most apt. I’ve written a few already for advisors, professors, and close friends, so why not one for my blog audience? Here it is. 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Reader(s), 

As I reflect on where I am as a senior at Oberlin, I’m aware not only of what I’ve learned, but how I’ve developed as a person and what my values are. When I entered Oberlin College, I was a strong student and anxious person, excited about learning and unsure what my Oberlin journey would look like. While my psychology/German double major and a linguistics concentration substantially guided my coursework, some of the most defining aspects of my Oberlin experience actually took place outside the classroom. I served in many leadership, teaching, and mentorship roles that I was not comfortable filling at first but soon grew to love. As a first-year I joined Girls in Motion, an after-school dance program for girls in the Oberlin schools. I worked as a mentor with girls at Langston Middle School, and in my second semester, my fourth-year friend and mentor asked me to co-chair the organization with her and teach the ExCo to train others for the program. I agreed but was insecure at first, but with her guidance I was able to grow and learn. Girls in Motion set me on a path of personal development and risk-taking in leadership and mentorship opportunities as they arose, like being a Peer Advising Leader for three years, a peer tutor for German and stats, working as a TA in the Research Methods class in the psych department, and serving in a leadership position within my co-op. These roles taught me how much I liked working with and helping others and also taught me that I was capable. This newfound confidence manifested in personal, extracurricular, and academic spheres as I became more comfortable sharing my ideas in class, taking courses that were challenging, and public speaking.  

Related to my psych major, I had a few especially impactful experiences during my Oberlin career that shaped my future career goals. Working at Camp Wediko in Summer 2019 showed me that I could operate beyond what I thought my limits were, taught me to be present, and ultimately helped me clarify my goal to work with adolescents in the mental health care field. The work I did that summer with a clinical population in a beautiful natural setting was some of the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done, and I want to do more. Wediko taught me the importance of trauma-informed care and about principles of universal positive regard and restorative/transformative justice. My 2019 Winter Term shadowing psychiatrists in my hometown of Albuquerque helped me learn that, while I didn’t want to be a psychiatrist, I did want to be a clinician. I also learned about historical trauma in Indigenous communities, which revolutionized the way I thought about mental health, a line of inquiry I was able to continue exploring in a course in the environmental studies department this past semester. I began to find a more holistic approach to mental health more appealing, and I am continually interested in the way social and interpersonal factors impact the development and maintenance of psychopathology. Because of this, at this point I am most interested in a more applied trajectory post-grad rather than a heavily research-oriented one. I am thankful for the work I have been able to do in supervised research laboratories and understand that knowing how to consume and produce research will one day make me a better clinician. However, I would rather work with people than exclusively conduct research (not that research doesn’t involve people, but you know what I mean). I imagine that within the next couple of years I will enter a Master’s program in clinical social work or a PhD program in counseling psychology, but I don’t know when this will happen, and am trying to keep an open mind about my post-Oberlin life. 

Oberlin let me explore and clarify my academic interests. I am interested in social determinants of mental health, social justice, literature, translating poetry, writing, art, film, music, and German language and culture. I also gained a lot of skills outside of my coursework. I learned how to make pottery, spent time dancing (contemporary dance, swing, contra, ballet, tap, etc.), learned how to rock climb, developed a deep appreciation for folk music, and can process 2 pounds of Brussel sprouts for roasting in 6 minutes (I also developed a really excellent granola recipe). I went on Outings Club trips in Michigan and Kentucky and remembered how important spending time in nature is. I made friends, both on the first day of orientation, and new ones throughout my time at Oberlin. I learned what’s important to me at this point in my life, values I think are well summarized in the following list:

  • Don’t be afraid to say no. 
  • Spend time in nature and be kind to the Earth; live in balance.
  • Be at peace with doing enough; leave time for play and rest: I choose how much I want to do. 
  • Make room for things that give me joy and interact without distraction.
  • Do things that challenge me and worry less about what others think.
  • Be vulnerable and share, others will do the same, (but) don’t forget boundaries.
  • Help others, even when I might not get anything in return.
  • Treat others with kindness and don’t forget the power of a situation.
  • Make an effort to learn about communities and resources and share that knowledge with people who could benefit. 
  • Spend time with the ones I love and cherish them; Tell people when I miss them and reach out when it’s been a while.
  • Appreciate and admire the small things; cultivate a practice of gratitude.

A big thing I think about a lot is how to act upon these values that I’ve so neatly clarified in that little bullet point list. Given those, what’s next for me? At least in the short term (i.e. the next year or so), I’m incredibly grateful to report that I will be embarking on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Grant in Sachsen, Germany (though I don’t know which town or city yet). After my semester abroad in Berlin was cut short, I was very hopeful that I would one day be able to return to Germany and am so happy that I now have this opportunity to continue my experience there while also continuing to develop skills I gained through all my mentorship and teaching work over the past four years. While in Germany I also hope to engage in some volunteer-type work in a helping profession, to gain some experience that will inform future clinical work. 

Although I never expected that my last year of college would take place during a pandemic, I am still finishing my time at Oberlin with introspection and gratitude for everything I’ve learned and for all the relationships I’ve formed here. I’ve learned about myself, others, and the society I live in. I know what skills I have and what kind of work drives me. I know what kind of world I want to create, and I know who I love. 

With gratitude, always, and best wishes, 

Ruth Bieber-Stanley

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And there you have it. Writing for the blogs has been a central aspect of my time at Oberlin, and I am so grateful I got to be a part of it and share my life through words with strangers, colleagues, fellow students, and my family, all on the internet. While my time here has ended, and my tenure as an Oberlin blogger is over, my adventure as an Oberlin alumna and independent blog/newsletter-writer is just beginning. 

This is my opening farewell. 

 

Responses to this Entry

A fitting farewell and I noticed it was tagged "Alumni Profiles." Oh my! I'm glad your Oberlin experience was everything you hoped for and more! love, mom

Posted by: Judy Bieber on May 17, 2021 1:36 PM

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