Looking Forward and Back
Since this is my first President’s Desk column of this year, allow me to begin by wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2013!
The reason I haven’t written a column is that I have been traveling, as have many of Oberlin’s faculty, students, and staff who are off pursuing winter-term projects all over the world. And those who stay here are often so busy with on-campus projects—such as cramming one semester’s worth of language instruction into four super-intense weeks—that they have time for little else.
But wherever they are during winter term, our faculty, students, and staff are doing great things. Winter term is one of the distinctive features of an Oberlin education, and I hope your January has been a rewarding time of growth, learning, and reflection.
2013 Illumination Tour
My travels for Oberlin took me to New York City, Washington D.C., and Cleveland, and it was my privilege to see many of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni in action. One of the highlights of winter term was the Conservatory of Music’s triumphant residency in New York City, which helped launch our Oberlin Illuminate campaign.
Triumphant may be an understatement. The New York Times gave the conservatory a glowing review praising the contemporary classical program put on by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble
under the direction of Timothy Weiss. The Times’ Vivien Schweitzer also lauded the Carnegie Hall concert by the Oberlin Orchestra, conducted by Raphael Jiménez, writing “After a tightly wrought rendition of “La Valse,” by Ravel, which vividly conveyed the work’s ominous shadings, [Jeremy] Denk [Class of 1990] joined the orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C. His joyous and beautifully colored playing resulted in an interpretation notable for its warmth, passion and fleet-fingered passagework.”
The Jazz Faculty of the Oberlin Conservatory, an all-star ensemble of award-winning composers, arrangers, and Grammy-winning performers, was also in New York at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola and performed brilliantly, as did the Oberlin College choir and Oberlin Baroque at the Brick Presbyterian Church.
Congratulations to Dean David Stull, and the faculty, students, staff, and alumni who worked so hard to produce this tour de force for the conservatory.
Oberlin Business Scholars Turns 10
During January, I also spent time with one of our must successful group winter-term projects, the Oberlin Business Scholars. This was the 10th anniversary of the program, which this year took 13 participants to New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston, where they met with a range of alumni working in finance and business.
We celebrated the anniversary in New York City with a gathering of Oberlin and Business Scholar alumni. The program was started at the initiative of Bela Szigethy ’77 and Stewart Kohl ’77, co-CEOs of the Riverside Company, a private equity firm in Cleveland. Over the past decade, Bela, Stewart, and other dedicated alumni have expanded the program to offer students exposure to the intricate workings of mergers and acquisitions, hedge funds, and venture capital, as well as more general topics of accounting, consulting, and public relations.
At the anniversary celebration, Bela and Stewart talked about how Oberlin’s values—our social consciousness, our devotion to academic rigor and the life of the mind, our interdisciplinary tradition, and our belief in liberal arts education—have influenced their lives and careers. "Oberlin values have made me a far better business person,” Bela said. “And Oberlin values have made me more successful." Stewart suggested that American business as a whole might benefit from Oberlin’s values. “Wall Street would be a whole lot better with a little more Tappan Square in it," he said.
Reunioning in Washington, D.C.
Oberlin’s values were also on display last week at our annual alumni gathering on Capitol Hill. As always, I very much enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones. We had a nice turnout at Russell Senate Office Building. Senator Sherrod Brown, the senior senator from Ohio and a great friend of Oberlin, spoke to our gathering. And it was wonderful to honor and hear words of wisdom from Dr. John A. Lawrence ’70, and Jacqueline A. Berrien ’83. John is the longest serving staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives and is retiring as chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House. Jackie has had an outstanding career in civil rights law and has chaired the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since March 2010, when she was appointed by President Barack Obama.
Arts Intensive Semester Culminates in Original Work
Closer to home Oberlin students enrolled in Oberlin’s first arts-intensive semester (OASIS)—a pilot program that takes a collaborative approach to the arts—became immersed in two weeks of intensive classes and workshops with professionals from Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT), often working late in the evening.
Throughout winter term, the students lived and rehearsed in Cleveland and performed Water Ways, an original play staged at the Gordon Square Theatre. Water Ways was created over the course of the semester under the guidance of CPT’s executive artistic director, Raymond Bobgan, and education director, Chris Seibert.
The premier of Water Ways sold out and received positive reviews. OASIS participants will perform Water Ways Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays through February 4. All performances take place at 7:30 p.m. at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave. Tickets can be purchased on CPT’s website; Oberlin students, faculty, and staff can receive a discounted rate of $10 by entering the code OBERLIN. Free bus transportation will be provided to students for the February 4 performances. To secure a seat, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Athletic Competitions Continue
Here on campus during winter term, the athletes on our swimming and diving, track and field, and basketball teams have been competing and doing winter-term projects. Attendance at sports events tends to decline somewhat during January because so many students are away. So if you get a chance, please go and support our student-athletes.
A February to Plan For
Looking ahead to February, we have a full slate of wonderful events coming up. I’m especially looking forward to the Convocation on February 7 in Finney Chapel between Kwame Anthony Appiah and Johnnetta Cole ’57. Mr. Appiah is president of the PEN American Center and an intellectual with broad interests and keen insights. His book In My Father's House, and his collaborations with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., such as The Dictionary of Global Culture and Africana—are major works of African struggles for self-determination. His seminal Cosmopolitanism won the Arthur Ross Book Award, the most significant prize given to a book on international affairs.
Johnnetta Cole earned a PhD in anthropology after graduating from Oberlin. She went on to serve as president of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women. Ms. Cole is currently the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), the author of several books and scholarly articles, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Association of Museums.
There is also a lot of world-class music coming our way in February and second semester. On Tuesday, February 5, the Artist Recital Series will present a program by two of Oberlin’s own, cellist Steven Isserlis ’80, and pianist Jeremy Denk ’90, in Finney Chapel beginning at 8 p.m. It promises to be an evening of brilliant music-making and I urge everyone to attend.