Navigating Change: A Field Guide
December 15, 2021
Olivia Huntley ’22
My third and fourth years are a passing whirlwind— carrying me along with them, more often than not. It seems unbelievable that it has been almost a full year since my last entry, Third Time's a Charm: Spring Move-In 2021. As I dealt with the struggles many face in their third and fourth years, I found that I became less surprised at the terrain I faced. I learned to identify the challenges as they came and navigated them. Moreover, I feel that I’m finally at a place where I can balance the demands of my work as a blogger, and my work at the Multicultural Resource Center (my newest job!), schoolwork, and personal life. As a field guide, this blog post is meant to serve as a general introduction to the lay of the land, potential challenges and opportunities for current and prospective students and their families. I’ll be honest: it hasn’t been easy, and I sincerely hope your journey isn’t quite as circuitous as mine. However, I can assert a central truth that undergirds my final year here when looking back. I am glad that “all roads lead to Oberlin.”
The following guide will be broken down by rock types common to Ohio and apt metaphors for my experience. These rocks include clay, slate, limestone, flint, and coal. Clay is highly malleable and easy to sculpt— like how I expected my third and fourth year to be. Slate, a particularly abundant rock one can easily find in my hometown, is easily split. It represents transformation and familiarity, as well as the balance between them. As an “organic” rock, limestone incorporates the remains of organisms that passed on before. Similarly, the limestone section of this blog post will explore what lesson I’m centering from the loved ones I lost this year. Flint is a powerful firestarter and apt metaphor for the spark that inspires me to finish my time at Oberlin College. Finally, the coal section will share my experience of locating an ongoing fuel source for my time here.
Ideally, one takes a proactive role in shaping the third and fourth year of one’s college experience. In some ways, I did as well. I made elaborate plans for coursework, blog posts, student organizations, and post-graduation preparation. However, I didn’t anticipate how these plans were molded, in part, by context. In 2020, I had not yet attended an in-person semester in the heart of the pandemic. Additionally, my family and I were in relatively good health. By the fall of 2020, this was no longer the case. These challenges recast my plans in a new light; I would have to alter them to complete my goals.
While transforming my plans, my family and loved ones back home played a critical role. They reminded me of the direction I’d been going, my why Oberlin. Moreover, they helped handle some of the pressure of my day-to-day responsibilities. My dad often ordered the food that fueled late-night writing sessions while my mom used her health and human services background to help me find local specialists for my ongoing health issues. Above all, they both provided me with their love and an active listening ear. As first-generation college students, my parents went through many difficulties I encountered. When I met my obstacles, they climbed them with me. One of my keys to navigating change is to identify a support network. My support network includes so many more people than named. Your support system might look different from mine— it may focus more on mental health professionals, friends, trained peers, and professors. However, I believe that trekking through college is much easier and safer with them by your side. My support network lent me the strength and services I needed to make my goals match my current capacity.
My struggle with personal and collective grief has dramatically diminished my capacity to complete my work. At first, the limitations were all I could see— the classes missed, the hours spent mourning instead of studying. I thought that pushing past it all was the only way to go: I had to tunnel through. However, I soon realized that I carried the grief with me like Sisyphus, and each time I denied its ongoing nature, it returned me to where I started. I hadn’t known the depth of grief before and thought I had to climb out of its deep valley. I wanted to honor the memories of my loved ones by being more successful than before, embodying even more goals and dreams. My grandmother’s funeral reminded me of why my loved ones dreamed of college for me in the first place: they wanted the best for me, not of me. My family, professors, and the Oberlin community gave me the grace I needed to offer myself before that timely reminder. When I embraced my grief, I found my way of dealing with a series of significant losses. Unfortunately, grief has no one-size-fits-all solutions. However, if you encounter losses in your journey here, I encourage you to take the time to find out what works for you. An unspoken aspect of the college terrain is grief— many students lose loved ones, particularly elders, during their college years. There is no shame in taking the time you need to cope.
My loved ones, here and departed, are the spark that restarted my fire. This past semester, they inspired much of my academic study, from a poetic sequence about all my passed grandparents and great-grandparents to papers exploring the theatrical Black maternal role. They led me back to the goals and dreams I placed on hold, the words waiting to be shared. They are the throughline of this entry. I found additional firestarters in the form of engaging classes that challenged my understanding of art and the politics of the “good life.” Rather than distance what I was going through and from my studies, I invested myself wholeheartedly and gained unimaginable returns. The past few months have marked the beginning of a scholarly dedication and rigor that would amaze my first- and second-year self, even if I took a roundabout route to this destination.
The prospect of what comes next from this foundation fuels the remainder of my final year at Oberlin College. At times, like fossil fuels, it gets messy: the fuel requires as much as it gives. Reciprocity is a core element that makes my support network a renewable resource. As such, it requires dedication and giving back to the communities that support me, knowing that my support of them pays off. Moreover, there are consequences to intimately linking one’s studies, work, and personal life. There can be pollution when the different areas of my life intersect. Honestly, it can make it hard to find balance when almost everything means so much. However, I came to Oberlin College because I wanted to discover how to pave my path with integrity and intention. I believe that, amidst this blended topography, I found what I was looking for initially. As I continue my Oberlin journey, I plan to continue looking for ways to bring these different areas of life— and the concerns they pose— into greater balance. I am grateful for the opportunity to navigate the long road through Oberlin, pitfalls and all. Thank you all for coming on this journey with me.
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