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December 1, 2023

Ava Illi '27

As the plane took off that day during the otherwise least productive spring break of my life, I could feel something growing in the air (and not just the copious amounts of fuel we were releasing for an hour and a half). I had never been to Ohio before in my life, and there was a lot at stake here. First of all, I had only ever been on one real college tour before, and it was already acceptance season. Oberlin, in fact, had already made their promise (and they were one of the only ones who had…). Now they would have to be more impressive than any of the others; to me and half of the population of the first-year admitted student event. All Roads Lead to Oberlin, or at least I hoped they would. How little I knew then. 

Pulling up to the school, all I could think was how flat the terrain was. It was honestly a little terrifying. I had never in my life been able to see this incredible distance, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. Nevertheless, I let it slide. We continued on into the town and passed Stevie - little, innocent me unaware of just how many desserts I would one day accumulate from this miraculous haven of feasts, stopped at the Hotel Oberlin to finalize our schedules, and set off for the day. 

One of my first activities involved sitting in on a social studies lecture. I walked in, expecting the biggest lecture hall I had ever seen packed to the brim with terrified first-years who wouldn’t speak a word to each other or the professor all year. Instead, I see an array of comfy desk chairs (which rocked my world! These things swivel - but they’re attached to the desk at the same time!), and students calmly walking in, taking their seats, chatting to their friends, and greeting their professor with smiles. What’s more - they were actually participating in the discussion. When the professor asked them to turn and talk to their neighbor about the passage assigned, they had actually read it and wanted to discuss it. This to me as a burnt-out high school senior was a completely foreign concept, especially for the fact that it was also nine in the morning. Everything in the room seemed alive to me. The more I slowly woke up from the anxiety-filled sleep I had barely gotten the night before, the more I began to appreciate this unique environment. The walls were naturally designed to reverberate sound, so no one - not even the students - had a hard time feeling like they were being heard by the rest of the room. The lights were bright, but not overbearing - there was no rush into this academic setting. And best of all, the professor knew everyone’s names! 

The day continued to be a success, as I was whisked from one community-building activity to the other. But it wasn’t necessarily the Hogwarts-looking building or the fact that students could hang famous artwork on their walls for the price of five dollars - what really got me was dinner. 

I was invited to the Pyle co-op dinner, which to me sounded like a harmless, cute way to get to know some other students. It clearly was not what I had signed up for. We walked through the door, and immediately the now familiar Hogwarts feeling set in. There were chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, but this one was not decorated with wax candles. Instead, it boasted the most humongous stuffed frog I had ever seen in my life. There it was, innocent as ever, happily perched among an endless array of streamers left over from every holiday imaginable. The co-op liked to just let them accumulate all year, and so the rest of the place looked like the holiday section of CVS had exploded. It was marvelous. 

As we ate our home-cooked pizza out of multicolored, multisized soup bowls, I looked around and noticed that the frog was not the only main piece of decor in this questionably decorated hall. “Is that a baby?” I asked, cautiously, because the triangular aluminum hat it was adorned with was slightly too large and disguised all its major features. 

The student I asked turned towards the mantle and nodded, saying nonchalantly, “Oh yeah, that doll has been there ever since we got here. No one around today remembers who did it or how it possibly could have gotten there. So we just worship it as our deity.”

Well, how could I argue with that? 

As it happened, I met my roommate on that day, and I distinctly remember the look we continued to pass between each other during that strange evening. It was mostly a feeling of anxiety beginning to fall away mixed with a creeping suspicion that we both may end up really liking this place. Part of it was also, of course, where did that guy get a banjo? but that’s not the point. So we continued to get to know the members of the co-op, talking to them about the circus performance they were running late for and any requests people had for songs on the banjo. As we walked back to the hotel to meet our parents, we started to recount the day and realized that this day was weirdly way cooler than we ever could have imagined it to be. She texted me later that day to tell me she was pretty certain she’d end up attending Oberlin in the fall. Sitting in my hotel room that evening, looking out at the neverending highway with its toll booths against the spring sunset, I began to realize there was no better place to end up.

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