Oberlin Blogs

Winter Term Reflections

January 12, 2011

Patrick Doherty ’11

Winter Term: This odd, yet wonderful month in which we get to explore projects for which we otherwise probably wouldn't have time. I call it odd because of its placement: Smack dab in the middle of the two semesters. This concept has thoroughly confused my friends from back home. They're still trying to figure out if I'm on a quarter or a semester system and why the heck I don't start classes again until February. I call Winter Term wonderful because I've had some incredible experiences that you couldn't pay me to give up.

My first year I returned to my hometown for Winter Term. Having experienced a brief part of an Ohio winter for the first time, I was fully prepared to hide from the cold and snow in sunshiny, warm California. My project? My friend Sarah and I opted to perform a joint recital. Sarah and I have been friends since high school and met through our mutual involvement in music. She ventured to Oberlin two years before I graduated from high school and I followed in her footsteps two years later. What could possibly be cuter than doing a joint recital that was her last Winter Term project and my first?

Planning the recital proved to be tricky. We had a relatively short time and no idea of where we could perform. Luckily, Sarah's family owns a Steinway and has a living room that can double as an intimate recital space. I can't, for the life of me, find the recital program, but I remember playing two movements of a trumpet sonata and a piano piece. Sarah played at least one clarinet sonata and she also played a clarinet duet with my younger sister, Christina. Sarah and I closed out the recital with an arrangement of the Mario Bros theme that I put together just for this occasion. We wanted to play together (not a lot of pieces out there for trumpet and clarinet...) and we wanted something fun and recognizable with which we could close our program.

Also, we completely failed at taking pictures at the recital, but, for your entertainment, I am posting this picture of Sarah and myself on the train to All State Honor Band my sophomore (and her senior) year in high school.

Patrick and Sarah seated on a train
Baby Patrick! I just realized that this picture is about 6 years old. Now I feel old...

My second year I got a little more adventurous. Having no ideas for an independent project of my own, I applied and was accepted to the Politics Department's Congressional internship program. The department places Oberlin students in offices on the Hill to get the full DC experience for Winter Term. Participating in this program was one of the best decisions that I've made at Oberlin.

I blogged about this experience as it was happening, but in case you don't feel like reading through all my posts, I'll include some highlights here.

Because I am not from DC, I was faced with the task with finding housing for the month. Luckily, Oberlin's Career Services office has an awesome website set up where current students can find contact information for alumni who have volunteered to house students for free for Winter Term projects. I emailed most of the alumni within the greater DC area and ended up spending the month living with two alumni (who are now married) and their adorable two-year-old son. They were amazingly friendly and it was an incredibly fantastic experience.

I was originally supposed to be working in the House Judiciary Committee office, but after a few days Congressman Conyers' (D-MI) Chief of Staff "borrowed" me for the Congressman's office. At that time, Mr. Conyers was the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and his office had no interns. I spent the next three weeks staffing the front desk of the Congressman's office, answering phone calls, sorting mail, greeting visitors and constituents, tracking the whereabouts of the Congressman and his staff, and other various errands. Working for the Congressman was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Mr. Conyers is anything but controversial. He has awesome bills on his resume of accomplishments - for example, he introduced the legislation that created Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - but he is also notorious for his remarks stating that reading bills is pretty much a waste of time. Whoopsie? For the most part, however, I found working for the Congressman to be an enlightening and enjoyable experience.

Patrick sits in the chairman's spot at the center of the bench in a stately hearing room
Chairman Doherty? And yes, I snuck into the hearing room when I was supposed to be working in order to take this picture. No regrets!

Also, totally forgot to mention the best part of this month. IT WAS THE MONTH OF THE INAUGURATION. BE JEALOUS.

A few days before President Obama's inauguration, Jordan (my current apartment-mate, a fellow history major, and then-intern for then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) and I went to the We Are One concert. There was an INSANE amount of people there. We got there early enough that we could actually see the stage without the giant screens. My camera is terrible, though, so I took pictures of the famous people on the giant screens. Here are some pictures from that day:

Walking along a busy road, where the sun is rising behind the Washington Monument
Yes, that's right, we arrived as the sun was rising. That's dedication.
A crowd of people dressed for cold weather. The Washington Monument is in the background.
My attempt at capturing how many people were there. A bit of a fail, but you get the idea.
Selfie with Jordan
Freezing, but having so much fun! Jordan and I may have gone a tad bit delirious from the cold.
Barack Obama's image is projected on a huge outdoor screen
Do I even need a caption for this picture?

For the actual inauguration, I watched from a TV inside the Rayburn building. Advantages: warm, being able to see/hear everything, relatively calm. Disadvantage: not being outside with the insane masses of people. Totally worth it.

I could write about this Winter Term project for ages and ages, but I'll just encourage you to go read my blog if you want to learn more.

My third year, I opted to start prepping for the possibility of pursuing an honors thesis. I read four books - two about the 1889 Paris World's Fair and two about the 1900 Paris World's Fair. Lo and behold, my current honors research involves the 1900 Paris World's Fair, so that project was definitely beneficial.

The best part of Winter Term that year, however, was making my Broadway debut. Yep, you read that correctly. I have sung and danced on stage in a Broadway theatre. Granted, it was at the end of Hair, where the whole audience gets to sing and dance on stage, but still. Also, my friends and I ran into another Oberlin student while we were dancing on stage. It's a small world filled with Obies, apparently. The cast we saw was INCREDIBLE. If you want a taste, here's a video!

This year I'm done with my required three projects and I'm working on my honors thesis (to which I will devote an entire blog post at some point - I promise!). I have to have 60 pages written, revised, and polished by 30 April, so the more I can write this month, the better.

Each and every one of my Winter Terms has been an incredible experience that I wouldn't give up for anything. The only advice that I can offer is to have fun with the opportunity and try new things!

Quote time!

"Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart." - Victor Hugo

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