Oberlin Blogs

Real Life Approacheth

June 4, 2010

Alice Ollstein ’10

It would have been impossible to write this post during Senior Week, not only because I barely had a second of downtime, but because time and distance allow me to articulate my feelings in actual words instead of noises like WAHHHHHHHH.

Now I'm sitting back in Santa Monica with my diploma, seeing friends from high school, cooking with my family and tackling the pile of job applications that glare at me every time I go for a bike ride or take a nap. I'm in a bizarre state of limbo right now, neither here nor there. After the chaos of senior year at Oberlin, the constant sensory overload of music and food and friends, I feel restless and a little melancholy back in my hometown. But I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible because I won't be here for long. I have about three weeks at home before I set off to DC to start interning for National Geographic, where I will work for an Oberlin alum, Ben Shaw '96, on a radio show about travel. While there I also hope to freelance, network, and find something exciting and meaningful to do come fall. But let me backtrack for a minute and talk about the build-up and actual event of graduation.

I've stayed every year for Commencement Week, even coming back from my spring abroad junior year, because it's the best time of the year to be at Oberlin. It's warm and sunny, concerts and ice cream socials abound, everyone is in a good mood, and there are no classes to stress over (unless you took an incomplete!). If you're not graduating you have to have a job for the week in order to get free housing, so I've always worked as an editor of the commencement edition of the Oberlin Review--a retrospective of all the big events of the year plus any breaking news. We print many more copies than usual so every parent and alum can grab one as a souvenir.

But I didn't work this year! A senior at last, I spent the week having coffee with my favorite professors, taking long bike rides with friends, and attending event after event. Soon it was time to frantically clean our house for the arrival of our families.

I had eight family members fly in for the big event, including my big brother and sister. It was a little stressful to have that many trailing me around (most have just parents, although some have enormous entourages), but we managed to have fun and not drive each other too crazy. Illumination, the town-college celebration the night before graduation, was beautiful. The college strings up candle-lit paper lanterns all throughout Tappan Square, students and alums play jazz, and local businesses sell ice cream and pie. Note the crowds and big smiles:

My mom wanted me to wear a cap and gown for the ceremony (most parents do) but I explained that it's actually an Oberlin tradition NOT to. It all started with the Kent State shootings in 1970. That year, Oberlin students donated the money they would have spent on caps and gowns to support anti-war activities and striking students. Now, some wear academic regalia and some don't. Many professors and students mix it up, wearing a mortarboard with regular dress clothes or robes with an alternative hat. It was so hot that day that I was thankful I didn't have a heavy black robe over my dress.

The ceremony was long, but lovely. I especially enjoyed our class president's speech. Shana is one of those Obies that manages to do everything and know everyone--someone who is popular for all the right reasons. His speech was the only one that made me tear up a little, even though I enjoyed the others.

All too soon it was over. Those who had hats threw them in the air. Then came the obligatory 1,000 pictures every parent must take of their tired and sweaty graduate. I had to spend much of the afternoon packing four years' worth of stuff into boxes to ship back to California, envying my friends who live within driving distance and can just throw everything in the family car. My final moments in Oberlin were spent with my favorite people at my favorite places. I had dinner at the Feve with my former roomie and our families, then breakfast far too early the next morning at the brand-new Obie-alum-run coffee-addict's-godsend the Slow Train Café with my dear friend and fellow Border Studies alum Jessye. The next thing I knew I was on a plane, and here I am trying to figure out where four years went.

I will miss Oberlin, and already do, but I know I will always have it with me. Why just yesterday I was explaining the co-op's food safety rules! In a few days I'll be visiting an Obie that I just met this last semester. I'm in constant online contact with my dear friends who, like me, are trying to figure out this crazy post-Oberlin "real life." And of course, this blog, which I've been asked to continue as an alum.

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