The Oberlin Stories Project

On opportunity

Susan Troy ’76

“I showed up at a meeting with a vague notion that I might want to work as an intern on Capitol Hill. What I hadn’t expected was that a professor I barely knew, Paul Dawson, would place me with an up-and-coming young Congresswoman.”

Susan in the 1970s.

My four years at Oberlin were only the start of my Oberlin experience. It was the place which provided the foundation for, planted the values around, and fostered the intensity in how I would approach everything I did afterward.

The winter term of my sophomore year gave me the first glimpse of how Oberlin would become a stepping-off place, offering encouragement and support for exploring things beyond. I showed up at the meeting in Wilder Hall with a vague notion that I might want to work as an intern on Capitol Hill. I expected that I would hear generally about what interns do and I might get some pointers on how to apply. What I hadn’t expected was that a professor I barely knew, Paul Dawson, would come up to me, somehow knowing my name, and tell me that he wanted to place me in an internship with an up-and-coming young Congresswoman from Denver named Patricia Schroeder.

I worked for Schroeder that January answering constituent mail and shadowing staff members through the lofty corridors of Congress. At one point, I was handed a letter from a someone named Jimmy Carter who was writing to ask for Pat’s support in his bid for the Democratic nomination for President. I remember asking, how should I respond? “Ask him his position on the things Pat cares about,” I was told. I never imagined that the recipient of my long list of questions on abortion, gun control, Vietnam, and the Equal Rights Amendment would eventually land in the White House.

After my few weeks in D.C. that January, Schroeder asked me to work on her campaign. Though the salary was only a modest $75/week, I gladly accepted and spent the following summer and fall in Denver, during what turned out to be a watershed electoral season when Nixon resigned and a post-Watergate flood of bright-eyed and optimistic activists were overwhelmingly elected to Congress. By this point, I had been bitten by the excitement of the political process and the dynamic give and take of policy-making. Schroeder was also the first woman lawyer I had ever met. By the time I returned to Oberlin for the second semester of my junior year, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer. I also knew, from what I had witnessed in those memorable months of ’74, that — like the then Oberlin “tag line” instructed — one person can, indeed, make a difference.

It may seem odd that the Oberlin story I have chosen to tell is a story that took place away from Oberlin. But ever since I graduated almost 35 years ago, I have discovered over and over again how many Oberlin stories do, in fact, take place beyond the academic buildings surrounding Tappan Square. For what is unique to Oberlin is not only what is happening on campus, but it is also the extraordinary passion for the creative and intellectual world which is fostered at Oberlin and carried beyond Oberlin, into the work and play of those who had the good fortune to experience it.