Oberlin Blogs

A Salute to First Semester

December 4, 2012

Margaret Saunders ’16

Finals week is a bit like entering the crossroads of two magnetic fields: all of the surefire laws about the universe you thought you could rely on suddenly don't matter anymore and you feel a little queasy. I was prepared for the stress of my first college finals week, but strangely enough I found I wasn't quite prepared for my classes to actually end. No more lectures, only two weeks of student presentations and test prep? But we were just getting to the good stuff!

Alright, so maybe this feeling isn't mutual. I'm sure most of you are counting down the days until you can bust into a more wintry version of What Time Is It?, but I'm sure there are also a few who agree that the end of the semester is somewhat bittersweet. And if you're not particularly fond of your classes, you might feel vastly different towards your ExCo's.

At the beginning of the semester, I attended the ExCo fair and felt like a few magnetic fields had collided in the Root Room. Tango lessons, circus acts, comic books, film clubs, more foreign languages than you could find in the course registration catalogue; how was anyone supposed to choose? But what many don't know about the Oberlin ExCo program is that while you do choose which ExCo's you'd like, much of the rest is left up to fate. You may choose six ExCo's, but only one ExCo may choose you. Getting into an ExCo is a combination of first-come-first-serve, who would be a better fit for a class requiring experience, and showing up to every meeting until the instructor finally is pestered into adding you on the roster. (Kidding. Slightly.)

Therefore, it was due to a little bit of fate that the Fencing ExCo was the only one that didn't turn me down.

You probably know where I'm going with this. I'm smiling at you from the top of page and brandishing a sword at your screen: I never said I was subtle. The Fencing ExCo was a roaring success, and I love fencing because of it. Was that convincing enough? I LOVE FENCING!!!! There we go, that's a little better.

I'd be hard-pressed to say if there could be any better way to learn a sport than through the ExCo program. Learning something from other students is not only fun, it's liberating. Though I've yet to meet an Oberlin professor that fit the bill, I'm sure that at some point at my tenure year I will come across a professor who leaves the work and the enthusiasm up to their students. That was not the case in the Fencing ExCo: my two instructors were eternally patient and made sure each student was kept up-to-speed with the new skills being taught in the class. They were understanding of any conflict that prevented someone from coming to practice and offered their time outside of class to assist anyone in need of further instruction. The dedication they showed while addressing the need of every individual student in class of over thirty was truly laudable. Thanks to them, I found a sport that I truly love.

That's the best part of the ExCo program: you're given the time and space to grow into an area you might never have considered studying before. It's not a complete makeover; I am by no means an expert fencer. I have lost far more bouts than I have won, and I am definitely  not boasting any newly-toned muscles. I still have sore thighs after every practice and I am still panting hard after every run. But unlike traditional classes, my grade doesn't depend on my success on the fencing strip. Imagine what college would be like if every class passed you just for enjoying yourself--finals week would be a lot less nerve-wracking, for one.

Sadly, ExCo's are indeed scheduled classes, and as this semester ends, so do they. Though our final in Fencing is a class tournament, our last day of instruction was this past Monday. Our instructors saluted us, thanked us, and brought about a group hug. I was sweaty, laughing, and a little heartbroken. When reflecting on the upcoming tournament, I also felt the familiar final exam nausea. I might not be graded on it, but failing will still hurt me. Literally.

So thank you, professors and coaches, tutors and study buddies. Take a deep breath. Fall semester be over sooner than you think, and you might even find that you'll miss it.

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