Oberlin Blogs

The Strange, Weird Theory of Goodbyes

May 24, 2020

Rachel Gibson ’20

I personally think "goodbyes" are weird.

In fact, I don't think I really believe in "goodbyes." I'm more of a "see you soon" type of person. Goodbyes imply endings, and nobody likes that. I believe the world just has a very funny way of reconnecting people when it needs to. I have always been a fan of letting chance decide.

I think a lot of big transitions in life can be described using Doctor Who quotes (linked to the Wikipedia page if you want to find out more about my favorite TV show). I even snuck one into a speech I made during my high school graduation (unfortunately, I didn't credit the Doctor because...I think we all know how high school students judge other high school students). 

When I think back to high school, most of the time I was looking forward to college. I definitely did not fit into my middle-of-nowhere high school. I think I might have the stats to prove it too? According to the U.S. census, the estimated population of my hometown (Tower City, PA)  is 1,282. Can you actually believe it is smaller than Oberlin? I can. Also according to the census, the town is about 98.85% caucasian...is that normal? As I grew older, I realized that the school, the town (and the county) is extremely Republican. Nowadays, when I go outside to run, I count about 20 Trump/Pence signs that are on a not-main road. Get this - the road is a little bit over 1 mile long, and this number keeps growing. Some people who I thought were my friends in high school would purposely try and challenge whatever beliefs they heard I had. I call my family the "most liberal family in Tower City, PA." So, when I decided to attend Oberlin, I was READY. The town was bigger, better, and I just instantly knew I could be the person that I wanted to be with no apologies! I felt like I fit in easily. I made ~actual good friends~. What a concept. So, if it seemed like I was always in Oberlin, it is because I never wanted to go home. It was also because I was an Residential Assistant who had to stay until the last day of the semester, but mostly also because I didn't want to go home. I deeply deeply deeply deeply cherish my friends I met at Oberlin, the teachers I had, and the people I met. This is because I never knew what it felt like to fit in, and these people made me feel like I belonged. So when I say I would walk to the ends of the Earth for the people (I am saying this right now) I am about to talk about below, I actually really would. Seriously. 

As the Eleventh Doctor once said, "The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant." And to be quite honest, I can't imagine my last year at Oberlin going any other way. Maybe it is because I probably had too much on my plate, and I was not sure how I was going to pull it off. I felt strangely at peace surrounding the fact that I had to leave early and many events were cancelled. As a first-generation student, commencement is extremely important to myself and my family, but I do not think it is necessary. I'm not really interested in celebrating anything, I'm not "in it" for that. I believe I have a lot to be thankful for and much to be proud of, so I'm content with that feeling alone. For me, there were too many "good things" that happened/were happening and they just completely blinded the bad things. I think I was able to squeeze everything I could out of Oberlin, and I lived each Oberlin day to its fullest. I'd like to think of myself as an optimist, I guess. 

“I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.” - Eleventh Doctor

As the Doctor travels throughout space and time, he meets so many wonderful people who impact him in so many ways, sometimes he does not realize just how great the impact is until a later episode. However, he does realize how important every person is to the universe. 

But when does he actually say "thank you" to the people that he meets? 

I have crossed paths with so many wonderful people on my journey through Oberlin, and I have a very long list of thank you's to give out. I decided to make this list a part of my final blog post because this needs to be made public. I want to let the world know how amazing these people are. They are important to the whole universe, and without them, there might be some sort of rift in the fabric of space and time. These people made monumental impacts on my life and my journey; they are my role models and people who I aspire to be like. These people are so special and precious to me.  

First, I would love to thank my mom, dad, and the rest of my family for their constant love and support. I'm not sure if they always knew what exactly I was doing in school (because, you know, percussion and TIMARA can get pretty experimental), but they still supported what I was doing 150%. Thank you so much for helping me pursue my dreams.

Next, the most heartfelt thank you goes to my percussion teacher, Prof. Michael Rosen. You were the one who let me into this school, so thank you so much for that. Thank you for seeing the potential in me. Thank you for being a loving, supportive, accommodating, and encouraging teacher. There is a reason why you have been in the teaching business for so long. You have inspired dozens of percussionists to forge their own path, including me. You have so many successful students doing amazing things because you were the one who encouraged them to go out and "make themselves better." You cultivate a welcoming community within the percussion studio that encourages learning and makes it feel like a family. I will always be so, so proud to be a part of the Oberlin percussion studio. This studio was really my pride and joy for the past four years. It was a privilege to study with you, and it was amazing to see you inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. I will forever be the most grateful to you. 

Aurie Hsu (Assistant Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts)
Aurie, you are like a second mom to me at Oberlin. Always looking out for me, always encouraging me to be the best version and the most real version of myself. I became the person I always wanted to be because you helped me get there, and I can't thank you enough for that. It's so obvious that you truly, truly care about every single student that you have. 

I remember this past year, during a meeting about personal statements with Nick Petzak from the Fellowships office, he said to me, "Think about a person that you want to be." There was no doubt in mind. I instantly thought of you. You are one of my biggest role models. I never had any sort of strong, Asian American role model in my life who understood my experiences, where I was coming from, and how I felt until I met you. So, thank you so much. I will never forget everything you have done for me. From helping me figure out how to navigate an airport for the first time to helping me set up my poster for a conference, to giving me amazing artistic advice and feedback. It was truly a privilege to study with you. I am always in awe of your creative work and your intellect and knowledge. I will be forever grateful for your guidance, your thoughtfulness, your support, and your encouragement. You have been a positive presence in my life. No idea I had was too crazy, no goal I had was too far to reach, and this was because you believed in me. In our last lesson, you said to me that you would never have a student like me, and I know I will never have a teacher like you. Thank you for everything. I hope to impact other students' lives like you have mine and so many others. I will carry everything I learned from you forever in my heart. 

Abby Aresty (TIMARA Technical Director and Lecturer)
Abby, thank you for being an extremely strong presence in my life for the past three years. Like Aurie, you are like a second mom to me. It was a privilege to learn from you and I am excited to continue working with you. You are a huge role model to me. Your organizational skills are incredible, and your lightning-fast email responses inspire me to be just as good. You also taught me everything I needed to know about all things Google-related (Google Forms, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Google Calendar)!!!
Thanks for always believing in me, supporting me, encouraging me, and taking time out of your already busy day to meet with me. Your commitment to making computer music and STEAM more accessible and inclusive is amazing, and everyone else needs to follow suit. I know that I can always count on you, and I can always trust your guidance. You are such a consistent presence in the studios, and you always have a smile on your face no matter what. 
One of my favorite memories so far was when Bird Concerto took up our lives for quite a few months. How we all met at 7AM in Warner Concert Hall to troubleshoot the whole thing was great. I thought it was kind of funny that the only full run-through we had was the performance! I still have the score handy for the next time some ensemble attempts to play it. I think we were all hearing bird sounds for weeks after that! Thank you so much for letting me play your Inkling piece on my junior recital as well. I loved working on that too. Thank you for encouraging me to submit to NIME and for just being an all-around amazing proofreader. I definitely learned so much about academic writing and even grant writing because of you. All of these skills that I gained by learning from you, I will carry with me forever. I feel like I could go on forever about the great impact you have had on my life, and I am probably missing a lot of details. The best thing I can do is always be there and available if you need assistance or an extra hand with any of the amazing projects you have going on. I will always drop what I'm doing if you ever need anything. Always. 

Peter Swendsen (Associate Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts)
Thank you for being an insightful and insanely helpful academic advisor. You definitely know the course requirements like the back of your hand! You helped me make the decision to add TIMARA as a second major, which led me on a crazy, wild journey to where I am now. I could not be happier. I think some people find TIMARA, and then for others, TIMARA finds them, you know? Something that sticks out in my mind is when the Talbertronics festival was coming to an end, and all the TIMARA faculty, alums, and students were getting a group photo. I just stayed out of it because at the time I wasn't any sort of major or minor in TIMARA yet, and I didn't want to intrude. But right before the photo was taken, you noticed I was standing nearby, and you said "Rachel, come over here for the picture!" I don't know if you knew how much that meant to me, but that is one memory that I always keep revisiting. Your simple act of kindness really impacted me, and it meant the world, so thank you for that. And thank you for always being supportive, encouraging, always available, and present. 

Tom Lopez (Associate Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts)
I remember meeting you for the first time. You were the first professor I met with when I wanted to know more about TIMARA and immediately welcoming. You didn't even hesitate. Since then, you were an ever-present, kind, and supportive mentor. The energy you bring to all of us is contagious. You have let me and others freely and creatively explore during your classes, and I think that sort of freedom is not something we have the chance to have in every class we take. For that, I am grateful. 

Eli Stine (Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts)
Thank you, Eli, for all the helpful perspectives you provided as I was choosing a graduate school. I really trusted your opinions because I knew that you knew how it felt and could speak about transitioning to another place right after Oberlin. Because I am a first-generation student, I want you to know that I really trusted your opinions and perspectives. I didn't know too much about what I was doing, and you were someone I knew I could count on. I truly admire your creative work, enthusiasm, and the support you give to others.

Dana Jessen (Director of Conservatory Professional Development, Associate Professor of Contemporary Music and Improvisation)
Dana is a guiding light in this conservatory. Thank you for teaching me about how to prepare for the ~real world~. Thank you so much for reading all my essays for any sort of application I was applying to. I think I can definitely write a personal statement now. Because of your insanely amazing and diverse musical career, I always felt like you immediately had a deep understanding of what I wanted to say in my essays. It was also awesome to learn from you in your free music class, and I am so glad it came into fruition during my last semester. The small improvisation community you created within the class (even as it went online) was wonderful. Thank you for the helpful feedback you would give to us on our improvisations and thanks for letting us explore!

Deborah Campana (Head Librarian of the conservatory library)
Thank you so much for taking the time to be my mentor on my John Cage project during summer 2018. I could not believe that there was a John Cage scholar right in Oberlin. I cherished all of our conversations about Cage, and I learned so much from you. To hear you talk about your own conversations with him and read your writings was just downright amazing and awe-inspiring. Cage's music constantly influences my own every day. I feel like I have such a deeper understanding of his music, thanks to you, and I hope to continue to study it. 

^ These are hands-down the best teachers in the conservatory, and some of the best people I have had the privilege to study with and get to know. If you think I'm wrong, fight me. 

Even though I was considered to only be in the conservatory, I was able to form a close connection to Cynthia Taylor (Assistant Professor of Computer Science), who taught most of the classes I took in Computer Science. Cynthia, thank you so much for being so welcoming and inclusive to everyone taking your classes. You are truly inspiring and a role model to me. Many of the skills I learned in your classes I could directly apply to the projects I was doing in TIMARA. I became so much better at debugging and troubleshooting my projects. Learning how to code was something I always wanted to do, and I've always thought it was a glamarous thing. When I came into your classes, I instantly loved it, and I wished I'd started taking CS classes earlier! I am hoping to continute to take more computer science courses in graduate school. 

I also made connections to people far and wide, like my mentors in my summer research fellowship at Louisiana State University, Edgar Berdahl and Stephen Beck (Professors in the Experimental Music and Digital Media program at LSU). They were both instrumental in helping me focus in on what I want to pursue in graduate school. It was amazing to work in a different environment that closely mirrored the TIMARA community in a lot of ways. That being said, it was so easy to adjust to working there with them, mostly because they understood my interests, and I understood where they were coming from. It's so cool to see how easily computer music can connect people across the field. 

Okay, moving on to some thank-you's to conservatory staff. I'm going to say it right now: These three women are a huge part of how the conservatory functions. They have the logistical prowess, the brains, the strength, the organization, the knowledge, they have it all!! Sure, us students can play in the orchestra or contemporary ensemble, but these are the masterminds behind it all. If they were not here, we would definitely NOT have large ensemble rehearsals/concerts or any sort of concert or recital in the conservatory. Really really. Keep these folks on your good side. 

Leah Brockman (Operations and Ensemble Personnel Manager) 
Thank you for letting me work with you. I think you can agree that it has been a wild ride the past few years. Thank you for making sure percussion moves are scheduled and for always lending a hand when we need it. I always enjoyed sending you the latest, the greatest, the elusive, and the ever-changing percussion part assignments. Thank you for advocating for the percussion studio. I knew you would always be on my side, and I knew I could count on you. All the work you do is greatly appreciated by myself and other students. 

Marjorie Gold (Production Manager/Technical Director)
Thank you so much for always making sure we have the tools we need to move percussion, helping us move percussion, and keeping our equipment safe. You always have a clear and concise plan for sure. They say not all heroes wear capes, but some wear walkie-talkie headsets, if you know what I mean. 

Heather Martin and Kim Aseltine (Concert Productions Office Staff) 
Thank you for making sure recitals are scheduled, rehearsals are scheduled, and always doing it with a smile. Thanks for helping us know how/when/where we need to go and be.

I am also so grateful for many people and students throughout Oberlin, namely:

The Office of Undergraduate Research, (Afia Ofori-Mensa (former OUR director), Diana Tebo (Administrative Assistant to OUR, Fellowships and Awards, and CLEAR), Leslie Kwakye (current OUR director and Associate Professor of Neuroscience)
Thank you so much, OUR, Afia, Leslie, and Diana, for being an amazing support system throughout my time at Oberlin. The graduate care package was so thoughtful, and I loved the electronic music CD! You all graciously took the time to get to know all the fellows in the Oberlin College Research Fellowship and Mellon Mays. Being involved in undergraduate research helped me realize what I would like to do in graduate school. Thank you all for your efforts to help underrepresented students get their start in research and professional development. I never thought, as a student in the conservatory, I would be involved in undergraduate research of any kind. I learned so much during my past two summers from all of you, and both of these summers were pivotal to my career. 

The Class of 2020 Oberlin College Research Fellows (OCRF), Mellon Mays Fellows, and STRONG
I have to admit that I was nervous coming into OCRF because I did not know anyone. However, I soon gained so many friends! I truly enjoyed learning about all of your research topics, and this increased my love of learning different subjects overall. I had so much fun going to the summer workshops and deeply appreciated how everyone supported each other. The game nights were awesome because I barely had time to do that sort of thing during the year. Going to Slow Train Trivia was also a blast too. Thank you for being so welcoming to me. Honestly, it meant the world to me because I was pretty lonely at first. I think I was able to get out of my shell a bit more that summer, and I appreciate the friendship between all of us.

Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra's Lab Group (and Colin Holter, director)
It was really an honor to be the assistant director of Lab Group this year, and it meant a lot to spend time with this group every Sunday. I have been a fan of the group for quite some time, I think this was truly my "Oberlin dream job" that I was secretly hoping to get ever since the group was created by Colin. I think I attended one Lab Group concert each year since it has been in business. The creative work, the output, ideas that come from this group is unlike any sort of high school music group I have seen. I wished I had this in high school! Lab Group keeps me grounded, you know? This group constantly reminded me of my first encounters listening to and making experimental music, and by helping to teach these things, I fall in love with it all over again. I hope that I can start a similar group like this in another town or city someday, because we really, really need more of you musicians and students like you all. I would absolutely do anything for any of you, even after my time at Oberlin. Always one call or email away. 

TIMARA student community
Thank you for being so supportive about my creative work. I always appreciated the helpful comments and feedback I would get. Some of the feedback I would have never thought of without your help. I also admired so much of the work being displayed and performed. I feel like a lot of the times my feedback might have not been as good, but that is mostly because I loved your work so much that I didn't think it had to change! I love how there are so many different personalities in this community and how it encourages the free exchange of knowledge. People are always helping others, and I am so proud to be a part of this community. 

And last but not least... Oberlin Percussion Group (and OPG alums), namely Eli, Tyler, Randall, Zach, Elan, Andrew, Quinn, Thomas, Matt, Sam, Annie, Liam, Justin, Jackson, JT, Hunter, Pino, Carson, Kelsey, and Julian (hopefully I didn't miss anyone). 
What can I say. Ask anyone and they would probably say OPG is literally my pride and joy. All of you are some of my first friends and my best friends. From the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) to OPG Chicken Night to Agave to Denny's Midnight Runners, Marimba Christmas, moving equipment together, hanging out in the percussion lounge in Robertson - I cherished all of those times spent together. Whenever I needed a friend to go to Stevie with me to eat, someone would be there. Whenever I needed someone to talk to, one of you would be there. We definitely have had a lot of drama at times, but it's mostly because we work together so closely, we are family. Some of us would joke that you would either see percussionists walking in a herd of percussionists or just by themselves. I think it is pretty true. These people were/will be there for me, and I would do the same for them. I would walk to the ends of the Earth for these people. I would also probably maybe hide a dead body for them too if I had to. They will never let you down (okay, sometimes they will, you guys are flakes sometimes, not going to lie).

Of course there are many, many people I have crossed paths during my time at Oberlin that I probably missed. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who I have met at Oberlin. Special thanks to Ben Jones and the Office of Communications for letting me blog over the years.

When the Doctor regenerates, usually they have some sort of famous "speech" or last words that fans remember for years after their version departs. Then, the next Doctor ends up going on another set of new adventures or has a new storyline. 

Some of them have a teary departure (like the Tenth Doctor -- his line literally was "I don't want to go"). Some are wistful (like the Eleventh Doctor, "We are all different people all through our lives and that's okay, that's good, you've got to keep moving"). Some are straightforward, and it is like the actor is speaking to their audience (like the Twelfth Doctor, "Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind. Doctor - I let you go").

Here are my last words as an undergraduate student at Oberlin.

Oberlin is an insanely special place, but it is because of all the special people who are there. These people are dedicated to their jobs, and they are people who you can count on. They are people who I aspire to be like, and I can only hope that I will be able to impact other students in the same way. I feel like you can't find people like them anywhere else, so I will hold onto them forever. I'm glad I never had the chance to say goodbye "properly" to Oberlin, because I knew all this time that there is no such thing as goodbyes. Goodbyes are weird, and they imply endings. Probably just a social construct, really. At the beginning of the year, when the thought of "how will I be able to say goodbye to this place?" crossed my mind, I don't really think I knew how to say goodbye, and I still don't. It's true. Even before Covid-19 happened, I had a hard time picturing what my commencement would look like, and I never could really picture what my senior recitals looked like or whatever this senior week thing was "supposed" to be. And that is because it was never meant to happen. I just don't think any of this was supposed to happen this year, it just wasn't planned on the timeline of the universe. Call me crazy, but that is what I truly believe, and I felt that deeply. I think I always imagined my time at Oberlin going on forever. And now, with no goodbye, it always will. My senior year is frozen in time. And you know what? I like it that way.

Oberlin - I let you go. 

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