Oberlin Blogs

Why Oberlin, or the beginnings of an inevitable journey

November 18, 2010

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

Mini-story: in order for this blog post to exist, I had to find my Why Oberlin essay. What that involved:

1. Searching my laptop, which is new (that is, I got it the summer before my senior year),
2. Searching my external hard drive (where all my old computer backups live),
3. Searching both of my email accounts (which brought up a few highlights: a letter to my parents professing Ben Jones' coolness from early 2008, which listed him and the newly minted Oberlin Stories Project as the five-millionth reason why I love Oberlin, and my brother's Why Oberlin essay from last fall),
4. Emailing my parents asking for them to scour our computer at home,
5. Success! My parents emailed me back my common application essay and this gem, my Why Oberlin essay.

Once upon a time, in 1967, my dad was a first-year at Oberlin College. He was a cutie. See for yourself:

My dad was only pictured in the "official" section of the yearbook once.

The 1970 yearbook was like a bizarre art journey. Out of the few pages that sported photos with people in them, I spotted my dad. He's that adorable one in the middle in the ironic U.S. Army jacket. This is the legendary hall in East that I have heard so many stories about.

He was here during all the crazy times, draft card burning, the Kent State shootings, the beginning of co-ed dorms... His stories from college are intense. I've heard them many a time, written several papers on them, and transcribed some oral histories for fun. In order to write this post, I gave him a call to sort out my ideas.

My dad, on Why Oberlin:

"I was accepted to University of Chicago and Oberlin, and decided on Oberlin because it gave me more money. It shaped my life, living in Oberlin's rural environment, much like how my life would have been shaped by the urban environment at UChicago. I realize now that I would have had the same vibrant culture life as I had at home [Great Neck, NY, right outside New York City] at both places, though Oberlin's wasn't as apparent at the time."

While my dad was here, he became really involved with organic farming, living on a tiny farmhouse on Hamilton Street (the last road south of town), starting an organic farming ExCo, and learning hands-on how to grow and reap and preserve what the land had to offer. Sometime in his final year here, an entrepreneuring young lawyer from Kentucky put an ad in the Oberlin newspaper looking for young graduates who wanted cheap land. My dad, and a crew of his buddies, started the Oberlin-to-south-central-Kentucky caravan, and over the period of several years, purchased pockets of Kentucky wilderness in Hart County, Kentucky. I talk more about my old Kentucky home in my post from my trip down memory lane this past summer.

My dad again, on why he and his fellow Obies headed down to Kentucky post-graduation, how Obies change over time, and the Oberlin mentality:

"Many of us ended up in Kentucky as part of the Back to the Land movement, the healthier alternative to a crazy world. We were attracted by the lifestyle that many rural folks had left behind.

Oberlin permanently shaped us into the people we are, even if it has faded over the years, but it left us with the personal knowledge that if you want to pursue something you want to believe in, it wasn't a big deal because you knew what it took to pursue things that weren't necessarily the norm.

An Oberlin personality was one that if you thought something was possible, you could do it. Living in a rural lifestyle that we decided upon gave us perseverance. Is there any trait more important than perseverance when you're going up?

Your awareness is always heightened in a country lifestyle. That's what your life was like." (Insert twenty minute spin-off discussion of me realizing many enlightening things about my life. Woah.)

I realized only recently that I haven't really talked about Oberlin's ongoing relationship with me. Oberlin has been in my mind for all of my life, and I wanted to attend Oberlin before I knew where it was or what it even meant to attend a college. While I applied to other colleges and universities my senior year, I knew that soon as I got a big envelope from Oberlin, everything else would cease to matter. Sorry, other higher education institutions: I was made for Oberlin, and it was made for me. I don't actually know what I would have done if I hadn't gotten in here. I probably would have ended up happy at another institution, but I doubt any other location would leave me gushing non-stop and paying me for it.

Being an Oberlin legacy has defined my whole life, even before I even began as a student here. Ben Jones, fabulous father and Obie forever, asked me recently what growing up in a house with Obies was like, and how that made me decide that Oberlin was right for me. The answer is that Oberlin's morals and values, the desire to live in a world than can be made better, to think that everything can be possible, to always question, to always have a thirst for knowledge, were all ingrained in everything I learned and lived as I was growing up. When it came time to decide about colleges, Oberlin just fit, and I knew it. I had such a hard time explaining it at the time. How can you explain that puzzle pieces fit together? They were made that way, even if they're separated for a while before they get stuck together.

Even now, in explaining my decision to be at Oberlin, it has much to do with my "Oberlin commune," as Brandi likes to call it.* I was surrounded by people who chose Oberlin, and Oberlin chose them, and if Oberlin made them as cool as they were or if Oberlin wanted people that cool, then I wanted to be there, too.

So, all that said, here we are, today. Oberlin accepted me, I accepted it, we're in the middle of a glorious relationship, and now I'm sharing my beginning love gushes with you. This letter is like a strangely stalker-ish profession of adoration, which is what a college letter should be (why yes, I know everything about you, and this are all the enumerated reasons that we should be together forever). See how much is still true today, and see how much I haven't told y'all yet (yes, I played flute, yes, I wanted to be a bio major... more on science later).


Why Oberlin

(a six-years-later subtitle: An Essay of Oberluvvvvv)

I was bounced on the knees of Obies, tucked in by Obies, and chased by the spawn of Obies. My dad, Yehudah (Woody) Plaut '71, and some of his Oberlin friends moved to Kentucky after they graduated. There have already been second-generation Kentucky Obies, and I have wished to be part of those ranks from the age of 12. My initial dreams of attending Oberlin began with becoming a world famous flutist, and therefore, I imagined myself in the Conservatory. My tooting on the flute never really continued past lessons and a few recitals, but I still envisioned myself at Oberlin, but more recently as a film or biology major.

Academically, Oberlin appeals to me in the form of film studies, biology, and creative writing. My first film class three years ago made me a connoisseur of cinematography and passionate about plots. I have become one of those people you want to pelt with popcorn for talking during a screening, as I analyze shots and significant symbols step by step throughout a movie. Video and broadcasting class last year allowed me to explore film both in front of and behind the camera. Editing and screenwriting turned out to be more up my alley, but I enjoyed every part of the movie making process.

I was born and raised on a small organic farm in Kentucky. Biology enveloped us in everyday life. My father always engaged my brother and me in every aspect of the natural life surrounding us on our farm, from understanding dew point to rabbit anatomy, from making maple syrup to digging garlic. After three AP science and math classes, I think that genetics may be the path for me. In math and science, there aren't always straight answers, but the basics in each subject are enough to keep me interested. Genetics is an integration of math and science that works for me. As I mature, I find myself seeking interdisciplinary connections in all aspects of life.

Even in rural Kentucky, my parents went out of their way to culturally expose my brother and me to music, theater, museums, ethnic cuisine and art. In Hawaii, it is a bit more difficult to find concerts and musical events, but the lilt of tinny ukulele music follows me down the hallways at school, serving as a soundtrack for student life. I am surrounded by musicians in my family, with music either being performed or shot through speakers at all times. Being near the Conservatory will be a comfort, with such a wide range of music nearby.

The food co-op, photo co-op, and all the music and theater organizations are also drawing me towards Oberlin. Ushering for seven years at a local Kentucky theater provided summer pleasure, watching plays over and over for free. Recently, I have taken up photography, snapping away at everything and posting my best in my online gallery. My school photographs make up the bulk of our monthly newspapers and also this year's yearbook. A darkroom is the next step in my photography exploration; so far I've only used a digital camera. Culinary arts has been a high point of my Hawaiian schooling. Practicing knife cuts and mother sauces has led me to participate in eight culinary competitions over the last year and a half. My varied interests fit in with the range of activities offered at Oberlin.

I have attended three high schools and each had their strong points. As a function of adapting to new school environments, I have actively sought mentors both in and out of the classroom. In Kentucky, I found my forte as a member of the academic team, and my coaches were the best teachers I had. Hawaii did not provide me the same opportunities to compete with an academic team so I sought new extra-curricular activities. My food service teacher continued my instruction in technical writing, business math and teamwork. However, my quest for strong academics persisted, and when I exhausted the high school classes, I headed for the community college. The teachers at the college continued to mentor me, feeding me knowledge; that little taste of college proved to be the rigor I desired, and sated my appetite until next year, when I transition into college.


I am aware that most of you probably don't have this sort of sprawling forever-Oberlin story. My brother, growing up in the same family to the same parents, with the addition of another Oberlin connection, doesn't even have this sort of epic story of live-free-or-die-Oberlin, but he's got little connections, the threads that tie his love for learning, life, and inquisition into the Oberlin community.

*Brandi has this beautiful mental picture of how I grew up: that I lived on a commune of Obies that baked bread in co-op proportions and frolicked in the flowers to acoustic guitar music and committed to carbon neutrality in the 1970s. Not... completely inaccurate; through our intentional community in Hart County, I learned to bake bread from my dad, we had many friends that grew beautiful gardens with amazing flowers, and my family is what I like to describe as "sustainability hipsters": we had an organic farm, solar water heating, an outhouse (we did have a toilet as well, after a few years), spring water, and all these other new and trendy things that people are doing now, before anyone was doing it. My dad, on this matter: "We were moving away from what society was moving towards." Unknowing trendsetters, we were.

Responses to this Entry

"Why yes, I know everything about you, and this are all the enumerated reasons that we should be together forever."

--Too true!

Posted by: Tess on November 19, 2010 9:49 AM


Our chief weapons are Love, Life, and Connecti-

err, among our primary array of weaponry are...


Posted by: BEN on November 20, 2010 3:33 PM

I also caught the inquisition part and recoiled from it. Being Jewish and all...
I was earth mother for a while, wasn't I.
I love you.
Super Imma!

Posted by: Anonymous on November 28, 2010 3:57 AM

You're making me want to find my old Why Oberlin essay, which is probably impossible because I've had two new computers since I wrote it, and my mom's had three (I think she's cursed). Plus, she's moved twice since I was in high school, so if it does exist, it's on hard copy in a box in the basement somewhere.

I think I wrote about how much Oberlin reminded me of the town where I grew up, and the summer camp I went to, and how my dad (a Dartmouth grad) always told me that when I found the college that was right for me, I would know. For me, that college was Oberlin. Oberlin "just fit."

My Common App essay was about my brother or preschoolers or something.

Re: biology. I applied to schools intending to study Musid Education. I took one film-related course in high school (American Society in Film, focusing on the 60s-70s) and did video at summer camp, but never had I considered it as a major/career path until I took Grace An's French Cinematic Experiences (it's not called that anymore, but it's still crosslisted as CINE 250/FREN 250), which I took because my high school French teacher instilled in me a love of François Truffaut (I've seen 400 Blows at least five times). When I returned to my hometown, people who knew me assumed I was studying music or theater, and when I said instead I was studying cinema and psychology, they were thoroughly confused. Or at least bewildered.

You never know how college will change you, from what classes you choose to take to who you become as a person, and I thank Oberlin for everything I am.

Posted by: Chris on December 15, 2010 11:35 AM

Shalom, zot lo Imma!

Posted by: Chris on December 15, 2010 11:36 AM

Thanks for sharing this! Quick practical question for prospies - was this written before the 300 word limit, or should we not take that too seriously?

Posted by: Sarah on November 6, 2011 8:48 PM

@Sarah - I don't recall there being a word limit on my Why Oberlin essay (granted, that was almost seven year ago at this point...), but I'm not sure how strict the admissions office is on such things (email college.admissions[at]oberlin.edu with any and all questions you may have about the application process — it was so long ago and things have changed greatly since then!).

This essay tops out at 707 words, and to be honest, to cover everything (even very concisely!) about why I wanted to attend Oberlin, wouldn't have been possible in much less than that.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on November 7, 2011 8:51 AM

Thanks, Ma'ayan - I spoke to an admissions counselor and he said that they want students to stick to 300 words - it's just about impossible, if you really love Oberlin!

Posted by: Sarah on November 7, 2011 2:04 PM

@Sarah - At least Oberlin hasn't taken to the Twitter-style college application essay... but it might be worth considering a writing style that allows you to concisely explain why you're so excited about Oberlin. I wish you much luck with your anti-verbose essay!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on November 7, 2011 4:14 PM

Does Oberlin keep a file on all alumni which may contain all of our writings, grades, fotos, indiscretions, bluebooks, etc...

Posted by: Jess Brodnax on July 19, 2012 7:12 AM

Oooo, Jess, that's a great question. I know admissions has a small handful of things from your initial application to Oberlin, but parts of your application get distributed around campus after some amount of time. Grades are probably housed with the registrar (you know, so you can forever get a transcript from them) but I don't know where else we keep pieces of your life at Oberlin.

Did you consider getting in touch with the alumni association to find out what other traces of you are still around in Oberlin?

Posted by: Ma'ayan on July 19, 2012 8:56 AM

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