In honor of the end of April, the beginning of May, and the final day to make that great, final college decision, I decided to do a little survey. I sent out a mass email asking people why they thought Oberlin was their favorite/craziest/most unique/worst/insert a superlative here place in the world (interestingly, nobody said it was the worst place...) in one sentence or less. I have compiled their responses for you here. My hope is to give as diverse a view of Oberlin as I can, and that somewhere in this pile of silly, heartfelt, and clever remarks, you will find something that resonates with you.
"Oberlin is the crazy aunt I always wanted."
"I love being in a place where I am surrounded by students and teachers who are so invested and excited about learning."
"Ultimately, you will be happy during these next four years of your life wherever you decide to go, but Oberlin has given me a unique perspective on life that would have been hard to find elsewhere. It has taught me to think critically and to have an open mind of the world around in more ways than I can even begin to explain."
"Because each and every person has something that they care SO passionately about-- even if you think all they do is play video games/read books/hang out with friends/bake cookies/study for tests all day."
"People are shamelessly themselves."
"Oberlin is the coolest place in the world because the students rock! They are all super open minded and friendly!"
"This place is crazy, in a lot of ways."
"One of the coolest things about here is the connection between conservatory and the school. There is always a concert, recital, or jam session going on. Being able to listen to expert musicians on a consistent basis (for free!) is remarkable."
"Oberlin is the most unique because of people's willing to change things for the better either within campus or outside of campus."
"Oberlin has plenty of porches to chill on."
"It's one of the few places where you can just do you and no one gives a *&@#."
"The Oberlin student body has an awesome sense of humor."
"Oberlin is like a cup of black coffee: it can be hard to drink sometimes, but if you can handle it, it will awaken even the sleepiest of students."
"Oberlin is the most unusual place because it is the only university I have been to where people come to the library to socialize."
"I would say Oberlin is unique because students are willing to push for justice even when the administration is the problem."
"Oberlin is the amazingest, zaniest place in the world because no matter what you do or where your passion lies, people will crawl out of the woodwork to support you on your journey and make you better. Yeah, the people here just make you better."
"Actually I came here because when I was a prospie I saw a girl with cool wool socks and she smiled at me and I was like 'I could go here!'"
"I'm in love with the brilliant, beautiful, and quirky people who are drawn to this place."
"Oberlin is a wonderful world - it has provided the space for me to find who I want to be and I've met the most incredible friends who have encouraged me to realize that image of myself."
And my personal favorite: "Oberlin is my favorite place in the world because the weather has a sense of humor, and people run naked through the library when they're stressed."
The biggest theme I took away from my friends' comments was that Oberlin is a place where you can be yourself and do what you want, free of ridicule and judgment. I couldn't agree more. Here's the thing - you will leave this place (actually you will go home for your first Winter Break) a different person than when you came in. There's no escaping that.
When I posed this question, I actually posted my blog on Facebook to elicit more responses. One of my friends from home, who goes to another school, read it and sent me a text message telling me how different his school was from Oberlin. At first I disagreed, how could one liberal arts school be that different from the next? But he wrote back, "The scary thing is that people are so influenced by the environment they're in. So you would probably be a completely different person if you went here."
Yeah, he's right. But what I think makes Oberlin unique, and what these comments revealed, is that there are so many different types of people at Oberlin that you don't have to change yourself to fit in. You're not going to find a group of people at Oberlin who are just like you. This could certainly be frustrating for some, however, I have found it to be a truly rewarding experience. There is no singular Oberlin "type," you won't be molded into an "Obie," whatever that means. Rather, the people here will bring out parts of you that already exist. While it's true that your environment shapes you, and while I do think people leave Oberlin more different from each other than when they came in, it isn't because students are compelled to put on a front here.
But I don't agree with my friend completely. The reason I questioned how different his school was in the first place was because I really believe you can find any sort of niche at Oberlin. Oberlin students simultaneously embody and break every stereotype on the books. While the stereotype that Oberlin students love granola and wear long, flowing skirts and Birkenstocks is true to a certain extent, it wouldn't be unusual to see a student walking around in Nike shorts, running shoes, and sipping a protein shake either. Most students, rather, are some seamless combination of these two overused stereotypes. So I guess what being molded into an "Obie" ultimately means, to me at least, is that Oberlin molds students into individuals. What that means varies from person to person, but for no one is being an individual contrived.