Oberlin Blogs

Before You Go

July 20, 2016

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

"Grab my soap. Empty the trash. Drop off the key. Oh, yeah, hide that. Give this away. Nah, just throw it all out." In these brief notes-to-self, I wrapped up my four years at Oberlin and gave my family instructions on how to get out of my apartment on time. As I sifted through mounds of paper and tripped on clothes on the floor, the weight of my time here came to bear new meaning.

I love writing... I have always felt the most visible and the most heard in the context of the words I weave together. The metaphors I lay at people's feet are nothing short of wordsmith excellence. Writing is an aspect of my identity that upholds my strengths as a student. It also allows my life stories (because there are several, ongoing narratives to tell) to reach others.

At the same time, my writing (and editing) has helped my peers to graduate, to apply for fellowships and scholarships, to call the administration out and to finish honor theses. When I say there is community in the power of my words it rings true and I hope I continue to honor this community as I move forward in my own life.

Ritual and (re)discovery are so deeply tied. While rushing through packing, I blushed at my keepsakes--birthday cards, warm fuzzies, letters, awards, posters and essays--that I felt I needed both at Oberlin and wherever I went next. One memento worth recapping here is my acceptance letter into the Mellon Mays fellowship.

Touching the jagged edges of the envelope brought back memories of fainting into my friend's arms at my OCMR box, stunned that somebody (a committee of somebodies, actually) believed two things. Firstly, someone believed that I could do rigorous work and cultivate a career in academia. Most importantly to me, though, someone believed that I had a story that fundamentally changed my whole worldview and I needed space... to write.

In perhaps the sweetest of ironies, my very last research presentation abstract went back to this notion of storytelling and where my voice is not only the loudest but the most honest. Even now as I write this, I feel like me in all the complex and uncertain ways that one can lay claim to such a phrase.

Graduating college has revealed a lot to me in the past two months. It is entirely possible to be thrilled for yourself and all that you have done and to be saddened, anxious and depressed that you have not lived up to your own legacy of "how did you do it?!" Personally, I think shutting the door on my own fears of not being everyone's Wonder Woman is one of the hardest things to let go of as I transition out of school.

I know I carry people's wishes for me and my life trajectory in the work that I do. I still want everyone that loves me to be proud of me and still say wow, Alex, how do you do it?! At the same, I know very clearly what I do not want. Despite all the amazement and oohs and ahhs, I do not want to be as exhausted, undernourished, anxious, forgetful, angry and sick as I have been in catering to this perception of my own exceptionalism.

Love is not rooted in me performing narrow excellence; rather, it is in speaking, listening, engaging and cultivating my truth with folks who share in my world. I want to spend time working at this. I want to wake up and enjoy what I do professionally, academically, socially and all that. I want to claim joy in my life on more occasions than my "self care" days.

Recently, I took some pretty public steps to this work by updating my resume, CV and LinkedIn. Modifying my industry from "Higher Education" to "Research" is a move that brings a beaming smiling to my face. For so long, I settled in believing that academic excellence and formal teaching was my path. This time last year I was applying for graduate school to study education within Sociology until I had an epiphany of sorts days before my applications were due. The short of it? This ain't what I want.

The story of my educational journey is dynamic--I love telling it but I have spoken and written this story. My time as a Mellon gave me the space to write, reflect, share, research and put in conversation my personal reality within a broader political and historical framework. I am grateful for that and feel infinitely comfortable in saying it is time to move forward and tell other stories.

It is my moment to explore and nurture other dimensions of myself that are bursting to create, critique, redesign and build. I am protective of this fire that I feel within myself on some days and I cannot wait to see it in full, blazing light.

I share this story (and hopefully a couple more with you) before I go away from the Oberlin Blogs. I started here on a dream and WordPress blogs about learning to love my natural hair. Just like my curls, I have grown into something more strong and beautiful than I could have ever imagined at the beginning of all this.

Before I go, then, allow me to reiterate a promise that I will keep: I will continue to create and exist in spaces where I can write and articulate the fullness of my being in the most limitless and powerful of ways.

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