The Oberlin Stories Project

On the spirit of Oberlin

Avital Isaacs ’10

“Oberlin draws the creative, the overstimulated, the passionate, and puts them together for four years to marinate.”

Avital by a sunny window

I’m seated in the cluttered basement of Babeland SoHo, a progressive, sex-positive shop in downtown NYC. The sweat from my hands nearly mars the first few lines of my resume. In my mind, I flagellate myself for not having more retail experience, for not preparing responses for commonly asked questions, for having stupid hair. My interviewer looks at her notes, then up at me.

“I see you have improv experience. Can you tell me about that?”

I sure can. For four years, I was a member of the longform improv troupe The Sunshine Scouts. For two years, I was the chair of the Oberlin College Improv Conference. And for a year, I was the Scouts’ director. What is, for all intents and purposes, structured make-believe, turned out to be the most rewarding and challenging aspect of my college career. I had to learn how to work effectively in community. I had to learn how to release my pre-planning, megalomaniacal alter-ego. I had to learn how to give myself permission to be silly.

This is turning out to be incredibly valuable post-Oberlin, as I graduated and was burped onto the shores of New York City, unemployed, bewildered, and sleep-deprived. And recent college grads, their egos puffed up by the thrill of graduation, of theses completed and honors awarded, are the scourge of the NYC summer employment scene. Avital, welcome back to the bottom of the food chain.

Beginning in June, I secured a fantastic (though unpaid) internship with Girls Write Now, a non-profit mentoring organization for at-risk teenage girls in the NYC area. I sublet an apartment through the Oberlin alumni network, and set about trying to get a job. Seven inquiries and twelve cover letters later, and I, like many of my intelligent, creative, thoughtful friends, was still in the weeds. By late August, the discouragement had set in. I went home, called my mother, and cried. I was somewhere in the middle of an indulgent sob when my call waiting beeped. It was Babeland, and they wanted to ask me in for an interview.

“I see you have improv experience. Can you tell me about that?”

For four years, I spent six hours a week with the funniest people I know. But not just that; I learned tactics to help me provide exceptional customer service: to think on my feet, manage contracts, book shows, supervise, and offer critique. I had to manage my time effectively, balance the personal and professional, and still make time to laugh.

Oberlin College has an uncanny ability to suffuse every student organization, every club, every alumni interest group, with the very spirit of the place. Oberlin draws the creative, the overstimulated, the passionate, and puts them together for four years to marinate. Whether we leave the place with zeal for social justice, enthusiasm for academia, or a desire to make stuff up, we all benefit from the rigorous and supportive atmosphere that Oberlin provides. As we recent alumni enter the job market, I hope we do not forget that our degrees are not the sum total of our qualifications. Our experiences are too varied and interesting for that.

In case you’re wondering, I got the job.