The Oberlin Stories Project

On being a Bonner Scholar

Rocio Leon ’13

“Even though I am naturally shy and quiet, all the laughs, cheesy moments, and of course, all the Bonner Love... made me more comfortable to be myself and increased my confidence.”

Group of 18 students.

Despite being academically driven in high school, I was shy and reserved. I let some great opportunities pass me by because I wasn’t as outgoing as I would have liked. As a native of San Diego, California, I wanted to have a college experience that would not be dominated by the stress and chaos of city life. I knew that attending a small school would help me become more outgoing and decisive — two traits I always admired in others but lacked in myself and that would help me overcome my shy personality. I visited Oberlin through the Multicultural Visit Program and absolutely loved it. I enjoyed getting to know the people I would spend the next four years of my life with — a feeling that was not reciprocated at other schools I visited — as well as the town.

Although I knew that Oberlin was the right choice for me, the transition from city to rural, from public to private, and from depending on my family to depending on myself, was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I spent half of my first semester in my dorm; homesick, bitter, and wondering why I had left a warm city for a town where I was always cold. Luckily, I applied to the Bonner Scholars Program before starting my first year, which helped me adjust to my new life in college.

The Bonner Scholars Program is a community-service scholarship program whose recipients are allotted a monthly stipend in exchange for completing a set amount of community service hours in the town of Oberlin. The program functions somewhat like work-study. I was happy to get the scholarship; even though I had a passion for community service, I was unable to be as involved as I wanted to in high school because I spent my afternoons working. Although I applied primarily for the service aspect, I unexpectedly received and reciprocated the joy of Bonner Love, a love that is mutual among all Bonners and gets us through our best and worst times in Oberlin.

The best aspect of the program is the strong community that Bonner provides. Even though Bonners are ridiculously busy, we find time to bond through shared service experiences such as the first-year trip. I, along with the 14 other first-year Bonners (also known as baby Bonners) and a couple of older Bonners traveled to West Virginia to work in a girl’s camp thst focused on creating a strong support system for teenage girls. The service site strongly mirrored Bonner in that it also provided the girls with a strong network of friends who would help them face the challenges of adolescence. We met the girls and spent our days chipping away old paint in old houses and painting on new layers, tearing down walls, hiking to waterfalls, and getting to know each other. I particularly liked this site because we created a connection with the girls in addition to getting to know each other in a way that our time in Oberlin did not allow.

The first-year trip was definitely a turning point for me. Bonner Love was professed from the older Bonners to the younger Bonners and within my own class from the moment I arrived in Oberlin. However, it wasn’t until the first-year trip until I actually realized how strong it is. Even though I am naturally shy and quiet, all the laughs, cheesy moments, and of course, all the Bonner Love, on the trip made me more comfortable to be myself and increased my confidence, even when we returned to Oberlin.

I started my community service in Oberlin by working at the Oberlin Heritage Center (OHC), where I continue to do my service. At OHC, I promote events and work on increasing educational resources to the Oberlin community. I originally chose this site because I am a history major and this site best suited my interests. By doing service hours at OHC, I became familiar with the history of Oberlin and I realized how unique the town is; working increases my connection to both the college and the town. I also realized that Bonner Love is not only among Bonners but that it also extends to the places where we work and the people who we interact with.

My Oberlin experiences would not be the same without Bonner. Through Bonner I have immersed myself in the community I live in most of the year, and I have been able to surround myself with amazing people. The growth that I have accomplished through Bonner has transcended the program as I have become involved in other organizations and clubs throughout campus. As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow, my Bonner experiences were critical in my decision to focus my research on nonprofits developed by Mexican migrants in the United States. Next summer, I plan on traveling to the Mexican state of Zacatecas, where my family is from, and working with transnational grassroots organizations. Whether it is Bonner Love, co-op love, or quidditch love (all of which I have experienced here at Oberlin), Oberlin has provided a strong foundation for creating amazing college experiences and memories.