Sometime in late spring, Oberlin starts to dismantle itself.
The sun comes out and finally stays out, and flowers commit to blooming once and for all. A spate of final performances, recitals, and study breaks dots the calendar. Faculty prepare their final lectures as students check off the last readings on their syllabi. Co-ops scrape together eclectic ingredients for one more meal and lock the doors on gleamingly clean kitchens.
Mudd abruptly swells with work-weary students clinging to lattes and Macbooks - then drains, empty womb chairs spinning idly. Students sign the honor code one last time and leave exam rooms with soft steps, flexing pen-cramped hands. Late at night someone is laughing in South Bowl; a firework explodes.
Suddenly there is so much time, but fewer and fewer friends to spend it with: each day the line for the airport shuttle gets longer. Free boxes overflow with hideous sweaters and strings of Christmas tree lights. Dorm hallways are quiet.
I've stayed at school for Commencement every spring for the past four years. Each time it's been strange to see how quickly the campus empties and the certainties of life at Oberlin come undone. I spent most of my own senior week hunting for last little pieces of Oberlin to savor: climbing on forbidden roofs, geocaching in the Arb, taking long night walks across town with friends. By the time my family arrived, the Friday before graduation, there was nothing left to show them but ghosts: the locked doors of Harkness's kitchen, the empty corridor of Classics Hall, vacant libraries and classrooms. Alumni crossed campus with their partners and children, pointing out ghosts of their own.
I learned exactly how many people in the Class of 2012 have names that come before "Goldberg" alphabetically. I learned exactly how many boxes can fit in the trunk of a car.
And then I woke up in my bed at home, my room looking exactly the same as when I was in high school. It felt like a scene from a fantasy story: the protagonist awakens, wondering whether their magical adventures were actually nothing but a particularly vivid dream.
As in any good fantasy story, though, there were little signs that the dream was not a dream. I had acquired tokens: a bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap, a Marshalltown trowel caked with dirt, a framed piece of paper with formal writing and a seal. I had learned arcane skills: reading in ancient languages, cooking with kale and nutritional yeast. I kept receiving strange and delightful communiqués from an assortment of peculiar people. So I guess the whole thing was real after all.
It's August now, and Oberlin is coming back to life. Orientation is one of my favorite times: hot days and late nights, so much time to meet new people and start new things, the glee of a summer camp and the thrill of infinite open doors. I've spent all summer trying to adjust to the idea that I won't be there. Four years at Oberlin are a gift, and I'd love to scramble back and do it all over again -- but it seems only fair to move on and make room for someone else.
So, class of 2016 (and '17 double degree students!): I'm leaving for you one Oberlin, slightly used but still in excellent condition, and I can't wait to see what you do with it. You're going to have one heck of a time.
Now that my lease is up here at the Oberlin blogs, I'll be chronicling my continuing adventures at Somewhere Different Now. Thanks for hanging out with me here for the past three years!