The Oberlin Stories Project

On her path from Oberlin

Jill Herman ’77

“I began thinking I wanted to be a teacher and a poet and left knowing I wanted to be a lawyer...What I probably didn’t appreciate fully while I was at Oberlin are the intangibles that make it so unique and that played such a major role in forming my adult self.”

Jill and her son hold up an Oberlin College degree

I came to Oberlin as a naive and idealistic sixteen-year-old girl, from a small Arizona town on the border of Mexico. After ruling out the big state universities, I selected Reed and Oberlin from a giant book describing colleges and universities throughout the United States. My mom and I visited at the end of the spring semester - and I knew instantly that it was the place for me. My intuition about Oberlin turned out to be amazingly accurate, but it took me quite a while to fully appreciate what a wise choice I had made.

Initially, I was intensely homesick. Without a cell phone or the internet, I felt very isolated. I wasn’t prepared for that, for the culture shock of being in a liberal college in the Midwest, or having to work harder than I ever had in my life to keep my head above water. My three quadmates in North thought I was nuts: they were all delighted to be independent and I was calling home and crying every night. By fall break, I had made the adjustment and knew I wanted to stay.

While I was at Oberlin, I knew I was getting a superb and diverse education. I loved being surrounded by bright and interesting people, and appreciated the quality and the accessibility of my professors. I realize now just how fortunate I was to have professors who would read and edit my papers (often several times) before they were due, who would invite students to their homes for dinner and interesting conversation, and who were so passionate about what they were teaching that they could cry during a lecture or talk until they were literally breathless.

I also liked the flexibility I had in choosing my classes. I majored in English and also took classes in subjects ranging from Spanish and German to Art Appreciation and Music Appreciation to History, Astronomy and Sociology to Bowling, Softball and Swimming, and even Pottery (in the Experimental College). I did three interesting winter term projects (teaching poetry to bilingual elementary school students, interning in the courthouse in my home town, and studying criminal recidivism) and spent a semester in my junior year interning in a Philadelphia law firm as part of the GLCA Urban Semester. I was immersed in culture: I could go to a concert every night if I wanted to; I saw Duke Ellington; I learned to understand and to appreciate modern classical music and jazz and chamber music.

I began Oberlin thinking I wanted to be a teacher and a poet and left knowing I wanted to be a lawyer. I was extremely well prepared for the academic challenges that awaited me in law school, and my Oberlin education has served me well throughout my career as a trial attorney.

What I probably didn’t appreciate fully while I was at Oberlin are the intangibles that make it so unique and that played such a major role in forming my adult self. Oberlin is a place where diversity, difference of opinion, intellectual curiosity and rebellion, growth and experimentation are not only accepted, but also encouraged and supported. Oberlin is not a cookie cutter kind of place and its students reflect that. Oberlin gave me a foundation for virtually everything I have wanted to pursue in my life and it planted seeds that are still sprouting now - 31 years after I graduated.

While I was at Oberlin, I was eager to leave and to get on with my adult life. Interestingly, my most persistent fantasy for much of my adult life has been returning to Oberlin as a student or a professor. My fantasy was fulfilled to some extent through my son, Jake Grossman. When I introduced Jake to Oberlin, I was delighted and comforted to find is seemed fundamentally unchanged. Yes - there were more restaurants, a new dining hall and the new science center, but Oberlin’s essence was intact and I felt I was coming home. Jake generously shared his Oberlin experience with me and I enjoyed and appreciated every bit of it! I felt much sadder about the end of his time at Oberlin than I did about the end of mine, and I’d still like to return!

I know I will always be connected to Oberlin. It is an integral part of me. Going there was, without question, one of the most formative experiences of my life. Oberlin’s gifts to me also include my best friend Marti Moody Jacobs (one of my original quadmates) and my friendship with my advisor and professor, Bob Longsworth. Being able to share the Oberlin connection with my son has been the icing on the cake!