“When we first met, I never guessed our relationship would be so interesting,” she told me one cold evening in early spring, as we finished dinner at a restaurant overlooking Lake Erie. Our conversation that afternoon had ranged from my ever-evolving career goals, to our experiences abroad, to an idea for a food importation business that we would like to start, to our thoughts on drug prohibition, and could have gone on for hours longer if time had permitted.
As we drove back to Oberlin, the sun setting over the Ohio countryside, said goodbye, and made plans to meet again the following week, I began to think about the true impact of our relationship.
Trying to explain my relationship with Melanie always presents a bit of a challenge. Melanie Hedler ’70 is a former New York City real estate developer who returned to her native Lorain County in the 1990s and is now the owner of a business that works on developing and distributing products that promote green energy and organic agriculture. We met through a friend during my second year at Oberlin, because of her involvement in the Entrepreneurship Scholars in the years before I was a student here, and through our shared interests in politics, business, and international affairs, we formed a unique relationship that can only be described as part mentor/mentee, part business partner, and part friendship.
More experienced than peers and more objective than family, having Melanie to offer advice or even just to listen as I explain a life situation has helped me through some of my most confusing and overwhelming times. As we have gotten to know each other better, our relationship has evolved beyond that of a mentor and student. Melanie’s experience in the food distribution business and my experience studying abroad in Bolivia led us to design a plan for a new business venture to import products such as wine, quinoa, and tea from Bolivia into the United States. We have already established our initial contacts and hope to make the plan a reality in the coming months. However, what will always remain the most important aspect of the relationship we have formed are the stories we have shared, the lessons I have learned, and the friendship we have formed across the generations.
Although the academic and extracurricular opportunities that Oberlin presents are truly incredible, I have come to realize that the most valuable experiences at Oberlin and around the world are the connections we make with the people around us. Some are fleeting, some enduring, and some may last a lifetime, but all impact us in some way that leaves us forever changed.
Even long after I leave Oberlin, I will always remember the guidance and insight I have received from Melanie, and I’m confident that my time as a student here is only the beginning of our relationship. I count myself among the few lucky people who have found a mentor like her, and as Melanie often says, something that’s “only possible at Oberlin.”