The Oberlin Stories Project

On exploration

Jake Holtzman ’16

“Although we are all at Oberlin to go to school first and foremost, I don’t see an Oberlin education as complete without at least exploring the other opportunities that are so readily at our fingertips.”

People gather around an information table at an outdoor event

I remember hearing many wonderful things about Oberlin before starting my first year, one of which was the fact that there is never a shortage of things to do. From everything I heard from my high school visit to Oberlin, from perusing the school’s website, and from the whirlwind we call Orientation, this is perhaps the fact that rings most true in my experience as an Oberlin student. Yes, there is never a shortage of places to explore, things to try, or experiences to be had. For me, this has been exciting and inspiring, yet at times also seriously challenging.

I’m sure many of you have heard the advice — under-promise and over-commit — in other words, don’t take on too many responsibilities. I certainly heard this from several people during my first year at Oberlin, yet somehow it didn’t quite get through to me. An eager first-year, I saw no problem with the fact that I was taking on leadership responsibilities with one student group, getting involved with another student group, planning to join a co-op, and hoping to get involved with local community organizations through the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research, and trying to practice the piano a few hours a day and get my homework done as a double-degree student. And, wait a second, what about having a social life? Okay, that’s a list of only six or so things, I thought. That’s manageable.

This was all well and good for a little while. In the first month of my second year, some of my friends were beginning to stress about the new responsibilities they had taken on. I still felt pretty good.

I think it really hit me second semester of my second year. I remember distinctly the feeling of looking at my calendar and having to close my computer from nearly having a panic attack. I was at the point where I had super-scheduled my days from 9 a.m. to midnight with classes, meetings, Bonner service hours, co-op hours, practice time, and study time. All of this made my calendar look downright scary. I found myself getting less sleep, drinking more coffee, becoming more forgetful, and devoting much less time to my relationships with the people around me. Although it wasn’t so bad every week, I definitely had certain times when my stress level was through the roof, and I felt physically drained of the ability to get things done. I’m the type of person to stay optimistic and driven, but this was really not working for me.

Finally, after midterms, I decided to reach out for help. A couple of friends had recommended talking to the sophomore class dean, so I made an appointment. I had never reached a point of stress like this before, so asking for this kind of extra help beyond a tutor felt a little strange to me. As I waited in the Student Academic Services office to see my class dean, I was trying to think of what I even wanted to say. Nothing really came to mind as to what exactly I wanted to get out of the meeting. As the dean opened the door to her office, her smile gave me an immediate sense of comfort. I ended up telling her about all of the commitments I had taken on, and we just went over the details for all of them, so I could make sense in my head of what exactly I needed to do before the end of the semester. I think that simply talking to someone like my class dean was incredibly helpful and settling for me. Having that conversation and talking through everything turned out to be what I needed to make the final push through the semester.

At the same time, my whole experience with all these new responsibilities and commitments had many positive elements as well, many of which were very important in shaping my personal development. I want to focus in on one of these elements: my experience as a Bonner Leader.

The Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research has expanded my Oberlin education in so many ways, and has allowed me to interact with the larger Oberlin community on a deeper level. This opportunity is, to me, invaluable. Despite the weeks when I questioned whether spending several hours a week working with a local nonprofit was worth it, the experience is something I now cherish as integral to my education. Through important discussions of power and privilege, real relationship building with the greater Oberlin community, and a family of other Bonner students to share experiences with, I have grown tremendously as a person.

The Bonner Center has offered me experiences that did not even cross my mind when I first came to Oberlin — experiences that are exemplary of the many unique and exciting opportunities Oberlin has to offer. It is easy to get wrapped up in academic studies and to block out the rest of what Oberlin has to offer. Although we are all at Oberlin to go to school first and foremost, I don’t see an Oberlin education as complete without at least exploring the other opportunities that are so readily at our fingertips for this unique four (and sometimes three or five) year time.

So then how do we Oberlin students strike a balance between taking advantage of these opportunities, and seriously over-committing ourselves? I am still figuring that one out myself, but I have learned that while there are always more new and awesome things to do at Oberlin, there is no need to feel like you are missing out on all of them. I have decided to stick with the few things like the Bonner Center that are especially meaningful to me; and I strive to keep that number small, so I can commit myself more fully to each piece of my Oberlin experience.