During the night of one of the first “Coffee With Krislov” events in the spring of my sophomore year, I lingered nonchalantly with a couple dozen other students in Azariah’s Cafe, enjoying the free cookies. Like cats around their owner, we pretended that we didn’t notice the prominent figure in the center of the room. When it came my time for an audience before the newly appointed president, I stepped forward to introduce myself, intending to make myself memorable by bringing up my involvement in transfer student life and inviting the president and his wife (I’d heard she was into dancing) to one of OSwing’s swing dances.
Instead, when I said, “Hello, President Krislov, my name is Brandi...” he merrily shot back, “Brandi what?”
When I said my last name, President Krislov made my jaw drop by saying, “Brandi Ferrebee?! I’ve been wanting to meet you!”
In the months following his appointment as the next president of Oberlin College, Marvin Krislov had traveled around the country, meeting alumni and important figures related to Oberlin, not to mention his handful of appearances in the news and opinion sections of major newspapers... and he had been wanting to meet me? A lowly first-generation college student? A student who couldn’t even convince her parents to let her come to Oberlin the first time around and had to transfer in? A first-year? I hadn’t been there long enough to make a mark among the current students, much less the generations of Obies who had gone on to make their alma mater proud. How could the new president know my name before I materialized in the library with half a chocolate chip cookie in my hand?
The answer was Clyde Owan. Clyde is one of the magical benefactors in my Ober-life. He was one of the first people I met who had experienced this incredible place called Oberlin. When I interviewed in Washington, D.C., Clyde was my alumni interviewer. While I was spewing my life story, I had no idea that Clyde was the former president of the Oberlin Alumni Association, the coordinator of all D.C. alumni events, and one of the people President Krislov would be introduced to upon his tour of the country.
During the initial interview, Clyde listened to me talk for a very long time, and then surprised me by exclaiming about how important and interesting my experiences were. He must have written favorable interview notes, (which he apparently remembered, since he later brought up the stubborn girl from Virginia who refused to give up on coming to Oberlin during his limited time with the new president). In addition, he insisted that upon my next visit to Oberlin I needed to make time to meet Midge and Smith Brittingham, two well-known alumni who live just off campus.
Midge and Smith have been my Oberlin foster-family. (In an amusing twist of fate, they live just across from the President’s house.) Smith feeds me dinner each Sunday night; Midge has introduced me to dozens of students and a number of exciting alums. Last summer they offered me a basement in which to store my bike while I was away, and this summer they offered me respite from the occasional loneliness of quiet Oberlin summers. When the physical, emotional, and cultural distance between Virginia and Oberlin has seemed especially daunting, they’ve given me hugs, heavy desserts, and a cat to stroke.
Clyde and the Brittinghams have done an incredible amount for me by fostering me and treating me as if they haven’t had scores of other young Oberthings cross their paths. They’ve treated me like someone who just needs a chance to show the world how magnificent I am. Whether that turns out to be true or not, I’ve had the good luck to have several incredible alums on my side, helping me through those new experiences I’ve chosen and nudging me towards the new ones which they instinctively know I will need.