The Oberlin Stories Project

On becoming herself

Sophia Bamert ’13

“Oberlin gave me the push that I needed to pursue my goals, to see myself as an actor in the world rather than a mere collector of personae.”

Ballrooom dance rehearsal in a gymnasium.

I came to college prepared to discover new things about myself. I had heard countless stories about people who switch majors many times or experiment with extracurricular activities they’ve never heard of, and I was open to that happening to me. In light of that, it is surprising to realize that at Oberlin I have followed through with the majority of the plans I had when I graduated high school. It turns out that I had a pretty clear picture of myself before I entered college.

Nevertheless, today I am a markedly different person. Even though I understood my interests — the cliched “what makes me tick” of the college admissions essay — I wasn’t truly in touch with how I operate as a person, if I thought that I would passively wait for new experiences and passions to come to me. Oberlin gave me the push that I needed to pursue my goals, to see myself as an actor in the world rather than a mere collector of personae: dancer, grammarphile, vegetarian, environmentalist, reader.

I have been dancing since I was a little girl, and I knew that I would continue to dance at Oberlin. As I surfed the web researching Oberlin the summer before first moving in, I discovered that there was a thriving swing dance scene on campus, and happily noted that there would be a welcome dance my first weekend. My knowledge of swing was limited to a week’s worth of basic lessons taught by my high school gym teacher, but I loved the style of swing dance and knew that I could quickly pick up more.

I made it my mission to get into the beginning swing ExCo (which I did, after showing up to the first class even though I had not gotten in through the lottery). My first semester, I went to every weekly swing dance. Again with no luck in the ExCo instructors’ lottery, I religiously attended the continuing swing class without being enrolled in the course. Needless to say, I became obsessed. Now entering my junior year, I am going to be co-teaching the continuing swing ExCo, hopefully passing on my enthusiasm to future generations of Obie swing dancers.

Also in the summer before entering Oberlin, I discovered that the *Oberlin Review* was hiring production staff. Throughout high school I had loved writing (and become a bit of a grammar nerd), and had always silently longed to be on one of my high school newspapers. I mustered up the courage to apply for a job as a copy editor at the Review, and I’ve never looked back. I note deviations from Review style when reading articles in other publications, in novels, and in my own writing. I make jokes about em dashes and italicized periods. I love the time that I spend in our Burton basement office every week; before Oberlin I had only ever dreamt about what working for a student newspaper could be like.

While swing dancing and copy editing are activities that I learned about — and decided to get involved in — after being accepted to Oberlin, I knew even before applying that I wanted to eat in a co-op. Until my fourth semester in Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA), however, I never had the courage to run for an elected position in my co-op. I enjoyed cooking for others and absorbing all of the knowledge that I could from my more experienced OSCA friends. OSCA was the one part of my Oberlin life where I didn’t assert myself; in my freshman year I had learned how to go after my goals, but was not yet embracing that role. Finally, I became a co-head cook and co-yogurt maker in one semester. I felt like I was taking on a responsibility that, had I been bolder, I could have assumed earlier on. Although the self-consciousness and 3:20 p.m. stress of being head cook will not go away anytime soon, I plan to continue doing it and trying different elected positions in my co-op.

My newfound determination became academic in my sophomore year, as I went in search of an advisor and declared my majors. I came to Oberlin planning on majoring in environmental studies and considering a double major in English. It was only in actually declaring and making a plan for these majors that I realized that I could study environmental literature, and that is in fact what I am passionate about. I have always loved school and learning about a wide variety of subjects, so it has come as a surprise to me how much one specific idea can be so academically exciting — and that what excites me was connected to what, for so long, I had claimed to be my interests.

Everything about Oberlin — its people, its atmosphere, its mission — has fostered this development within me, as I’ve felt encouraged and supported in acting on my ideas. Although I did know myself quite well on the surface before getting to Oberlin, being here has taught me how to actually be me.