Today I had an interesting phone call with an alumnus of my alma mater, Oberlin College. He called me for an informational interview, asking for some career advice. It was a good conversation. At one point, on a tangent, he asked me why I went to Oberlin? It’s a funny story actually.
In fact, I didn’t want to attend Oberlin. It was my absolute last choice; I was forced to apply by my mother. She went to Oberlin and loved it. She said she knew me better than anyone and knew for sure that Oberlin was where I belonged.
But from my perspective, there was no way I was going from Boston to some tiny school in the midwest with no city, no ocean, no tech community, no anything! No frikkin way. I wanted to go to Brown, or NYU, or somewhere “cool” or at least “big.”
Never mind the fact that Oberlin was one of the most intellectually intense, creative, free thinking liberal arts colleges in the country. Never mind that Oberlin was the first college to admit women and to not discriminate against people of color, and never mind that it had one of the top conservatories of music in the world, or that it has long had one of the highest percentages of graduates to go onto get PhDs.
Never mind all of that. My mother went there, and it was in Ohio. And it wasn’t Brown University. Those three facts were enough to convince me I didn’t belong there.
I procrastinated until I had sent out all my other applications. But my mother would not leave me alone. So, at the last minute, one evening, in a very rebellious mood, I filled out my Oberlin application in a way that I thought would GUARANTEE that they would not admit me.
Here is the essay:
I wasn’t going to take my mother’s advice, no matter what. I did my best to write an essay that was the very opposite of what a college application essay should be. It was not serious, well reasoned, carefully written, or intellectually brilliant, and certainly did not demonstrate my desire or qualifications to attend Oberlin. In fact, if anything, I was hoping that Oberlin’s admission staff would read it and cross me right off their list.
But fate or destiny had other plans for me.
Brown University lost my application (I received a belated apology from their admissions department months later).
And to make matters worse, much to my dismay, Oberlin loved my essay.
They called me and told me it was one of the most creative essays they had ever received. They were convinced I really wanted to attend and that my essay was actually a serious attempt to get admitted.
They didn’t believe me when I said that no, in fact, I really didn’t want to go there and that it was my last choice and that I only applied because my mother forced me.
Nothing I said would convince them otherwise. They were sure I was playing an elaborate game with them. They were sure I really wanted to attend, and the more I denied it, the more they thought I was playing with them.
Their admissions director said I was exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinker they look for. They called again. I said no. So they wrote, they spoke to my mother, and they even offered me a very generous scholarship. It was by far the best offer I got from any college. Ironically, in the end, I just could not say no.
It just goes to show you, everyone wants whomever doesn’t want them. Even colleges.
But on hindsight it turned out that my mother was right about me (as mothers usually are when it comes to their children). Oberlin was the best college I could have possibly have gone to. It was the perfect petri dish for an interdisciplinary, intensely curious, anti-authoritarian, free-thinking creative person like myself.
And the fact that there was no city to speak of and nothing at all to do off-campus (you could barely even find coffee off-campus when I attended) contributed to the most active, vibrant, non-boring on-campus community imaginable.
It was an absolute hotbed of thinking, activism, creativity, music, literature, art, science, philosophy, and basically just about everything but sports.
I tried my best to avoid it, and when I applied I tried to disqualify myself, but there was no escaping it. And it turned out that it really was the best place for me in the end; it was where I belonged.
I loved it. Every quirky idealistic isolated ivory tower dreamy minute of it.
Sometimes life works that way. What’s best for you is sometimes the opposite of what you think or want. And sometimes, when you are stubbornly certain that you know what’s best for you — just don’t listen to yourself, listen to your mother.