The Oberlin Stories Project

On learning to choose

Chelsea de Souza ’16

“Oberlin has helped me with something that I have struggled with my entire life — the strength to make choices and believe in them despite any regrets that might follow.”

A group of women dressed for an evening event

I have always been something of an overachiever. It wasn’t a drive to be the best at everything as much as a need to be involved in everything. In high school, where other kids were content to focus on their studies and maybe one other extracurricular sport or cultural activity, I had to be involved in elocution, drama, music, sports — you name it, I was into it.

That was one of the main reasons why, in graduating from high school, I was absolutely unable to choose between the two main focal points of my life at that point: my studies and my music. That’s when I came across Oberlin and its fantastic double degree program, and thought to myself, “Hey, this sounds like a pretty good fit for me!” I was the victim of much negative advice when people back home heard about my plans. “Music deserves your whole life, give up the academics,” some said. “Musicians don’t make any money — leave it as a hobby and focus on your studies!” said others. Either way, most people I spoke to were of the opinion that doing both degrees was a waste of time. I went into Oberlin more than a little apprehensive about my workload and how I was going to manage my time between studies and piano practice. In the weeks leading up to my arrival in Oberlin, I imagined myself making trade-offs between piano practice and straight As — the world was a very simple dichotomy for me. I was absolutely unprepared for the world that is Oberlin.

One of the things I have grown to love most about Oberlin is the breadth of activities and causes that one can get involved in, both on campus and in the surrounding town. For the average Obie, classes are a small (albeit important) part of a packed day that could take one from teaching a pottery ExCo to rushing for a lacrosse practice, or volunteering at the local theater to performing in an orchestra concert. Coming in to Oberlin, I was thrilled and fascinated by this passionate and busy version of college life. It was more than anything I’d imagined, more than anything I could ever want. I upped my credit limit so I could take more classes; signed up for ExCos; joined clubs; auditioned for Oberlin’s oldest all female a cappella group Nothing But Treble; took up a few jobs, and generally tried to get my finger in every pie.

This might be great for a single degree Obie, for a double-degree student like me? Not so great. My sophomore year was especially fraught with missed meals, lack of sleep, and stress lines as I juggled all my commitments as best as I could. I cut down time with friends to a few hours every week, something I came to regret by the end of the year when all our conversations tended to go something like this, “Oh that happened to you? When? Two months ago? How did I not know about it? Oh right, I was practicing/studying/working.”

While it may read as such, this is not a rant about how busy my first two years of college were — everyone has experienced the craziness that can be college life. Oberlin has helped me with something that I have struggled with my entire life — the strength to make choices and believe in them despite any regrets that might follow. When I’m at Oberlin, I’m surrounded by people who are passionately involved in and dedicated to what they do. Dabbling in myriad activities and causes — something I have spent my life doing — seems so trivial and demeaning when there are people giving their lives to them. Oberlin has helped me figure out who I am in terms of the things I love to do, and has showed me that you don’t need to be a part of everything to lead a full life.

After two years of experimenting and burning my fingers, I know that politics classes, piano practice, and my a cappella group are the three things I want to focus most on at Oberlin — which means I might still look at the track team and wish I could be a part of it, but I don’t have an urge to go sign up for tryouts. I have the strength to walk away and lock myself in a practice room, and really focus on the few things that I really want to spend the rest of my life doing and contributing to.