Coming to Oberlin I was told that I would do great things. During orientation, President Nancy Dye stood up in front of the class of 2008 and told us about all of the crazy and wild things that Oberlin grads have done. Some had made incredible amounts of money doing a series of very important and cool things. Others had made very little money doing a series of very important and cool things. I can’t remember the exact details of her speech, but it was a formative one for me. The low lights of Finney Chapel, the inspiring words, and the pipe organ piece that added a mystic quality to the event were some of the many experiences during my first year that just completely scared me.
There was so much pressure. I had grown up in Oberlin, and I knew of the caliber of Oberlin grads. Now, becoming a future member of this community was far more overwhelming than I had expected. I just couldn’t think of myself as a lawyer one day. There was no way I had considered a future where I was holding a political office. I definitely didn’t think that I would spend time in Japan or the Middle East. These were all such lofty things to accomplish to me. Rather than working toward a goal like those, I spent the next two semesters working single-mindedly on the things that I loved. I practiced diligently with my rock band. I worked at the ’Sco booking shows and advertising. I did little else besides socialize, and my grades suffered.
I took the next fall semester off thinking that I would go get famous with my band. I began to schedule a tour and find a studio to record in. Things looked great until the band fell apart and I was forced to get an unglamorous full time job and to live with my parents. I later returned to school out of desperation. I didn’t want to work forever at the job I had, and college was the way out of that. Even if college had seemed scary and new, parts of it had been very fun. For the first time I was also noticing a thirst for learning in myself. It seemed that a lack of schooling had allowed a desire that had always been fulfilled and unnoticed to come to my attention.
For a long time before I came back and figured out how to be a good student, I thought that I was different than I am now. During my time in school, I have seen myself as two different Louises, one young, brash, and tattooed, the other studious, wearing long sleeves or suit jackets covering his tattoos. After a few years I have realized that in both of these periods of my life I was one of the Oberlin students that President Dye spoke of. In both cases I was working my hardest on something that I loved. This is what makes all Oberlin grads so special. We work very hard at what we care for.
I will graduate soon, and a part of me is still a little afraid that I will be making Mexican food for the rest of my life. A much larger part of me is comfortable knowing that my Oberlin education has given me the personal drive needed to find a very engaging place for myself in the world. I will not settle for anything but the greatest challenges in my life. While we all come here with the potential to be this way, and while some of us may have gotten there without this place, few of us will leave here without this drive clearly formed within them.
I know of no other place like Oberlin, and I doubt somewhat that there is one. It is academically challenging on the level of the Ivy League. With a castle, a museum, and the many different cultures represented here, it is fantastical like a Disney fairy tale. We carry ourselves with an air of courtesy and responsibility to others that shows itself daily in both our smallest actions and in our viewpoints about the way the world should be. It is a place to come to form ourselves into those who will do great things. To those of you who will be here when I leave, please take care of this place that I have come to truly love, and don’t fail to pass it on.