On the influence of an Oberlin education
Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam ’74
“Oberlin was not simply a 4-year stopping point, but has been and continues to be an essential part of my journey. It taught me to be ever vigilant in seeking social justice, curious, caring, open to new opportunities, compelled to help others.”
I can’t pinpoint when or why I knew that Oberlin was the right place for me; somehow, I just knew. And 35 years later, I am even more convinced that my college choice was not only a good one, but shaped the rest of my life.
Why? Values, friends, mentors—all fostered during four years in Ohio, and all still with me. Here is my story.
In 2002, after a career in marketing communications, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew that education had always played a central role in my life, as had working with and on behalf of children, and I knew that I ached to find a way to feel I was making a contribution that really mattered. In short, not much had changed since 1974—what mattered at Oberlin remained my roadmap. I gathered together all of my experiences and after much thought concluded that my next home would be in the academy. That meant returning to student life—at age 50! So I embarked on a regimen of GREs and PhD applications.
This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. It meant turning life upside down, not just for myself, but also for my family. My husband (clearly sharing Oberlin’s values although not himself an Obie) said, “We’ve always encouraged our children to follow their muse; what kind of example are you setting if you don’t?” My college advisor, mentor, and lifelong friend Jim Walsh (a retired sociology professor) cheered me on, writing such glowing recommendations that I barely recognized myself. Where else but Oberlin would a professor provide such personal and helpful guidance nearly 30 years after graduation? (I should also note that he discouraged me from pursuing a PhD right out of Oberlin, since at the time it was abundantly clear that I didn’t have a clue about who I wanted to be or what I wanted to study.)
It worked. I gained acceptance—and a fabulous fellowship—in Michigan State University’s Mass Media PhD program, my first choice. Midway through my studies, at my Oberlin 30-year class reunion (the first I ever attended), former classmates reacted with surprise and support. Those who had been through the rigors of doctoral studies were most surprised, sympathetic, and encouraging (okay, some thought I was more than a little crazy).
I will attend my 35th reunion with PhD in hand and a tenure-system position at MSU. I found my ideal job in a research university, focusing on media and the ethical treatment of children. I love teaching, I love my students, I love the wonders of research, I love advocating for children. I am where I am now because of all those who’ve boosted me onto their shoulders. Oberlin was not simply a 4-year stopping point, but has been and continues to be an essential part of my journey. It taught me to be ever vigilant in seeking social justice, curious, caring, open to new opportunities, compelled to help others. It’s not just where I went to school—it is who I am.
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