As a student, I immersed myself in all that Oberlin had to offer. I raided the freshly-made bread meant for breakfast in Tank Co-op, slogged through proposal after proposal on the OSCA Board, pored over cases of suspected Honor Code violations with the Student Honor Committee, logged untold hours ridding computers of their demons at the CIT, banged junkyard car parts with Oberlin Steel, drank DeCafe smoothies and napped in public places more often than I care to admit, and -- oh yeah -- was honored to learn from and with brilliant, talented, creative scholars who genuinely loved their work. (If Elizabeth Hamilton offers her East German Cinema course again, by the way, please take it. You will be glad you did.) I worked hard, I played hard, and I learned some invaluable lessons about myself and the world around me. In other words, I had the typical, extraordinary, irreplaceable Oberlin experience.
However, it wasn’t until I started working with Barbara Sawhill in the Cooper International Learning Center that everything clicked. My education wasn’t meant to be shoved in a box with my old IRS returns, gathering dust and being hauled out only to prove that I really did pay up, Mr. Taxman, I promise. Nuh uh. Oberlin had afforded me an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge, an unfailingly inquisitive nature, and a diverse and widespread network of peers. Now, what was I planning on doing with all of that? Hmmmm? Insert image of Barbara looking supportive yet stern, arms crossed, foot tapping impatiently. The hard work had only just begun.
Little did I know that what started as a professional challenge would lead to a voyage of personal reflection and self-discovery. Little did I know that the person most tolerant of my false starts, most supportive of my trials and errors, and most understanding of the personal and professional challenges that would lie ahead would be someone with whom I had very little in common, at least on the surface. Little did I know that I would arrive in Oberlin as Ms. Erin Brazell, and leave as Mr. Ryan Brazell. Barbara was present for some of the most difficult months of my life, and even though I didn’t always recognize it at the time, she never once stopped being extraordinarily caring and kind.
That, to me, is the Oberlin ethos. It’s about refusing to put ANYONE into a box, regardless of what they may appear to be on the surface. It’s about treating others with dignity, and kindness, and respect, regardless of whether you agree with or even understand another’s point of view. It’s about showing love and compassion for your fellow humans, and being willing to take the high road regardless of whether it benefits you personally to do so. Living up to that moral standard is incredibly difficult; every day presents a new challenge. Oberlin can and will provide the tools for success, sometimes when and where you least expect it. Stay open to the possibilities.