All Roads Lead to Oberlin


Thursday morning North and I were in the kitchen making our breakfasts and I mentioned we’d be hitting the road soon, and asked “And where will that road go?”

“To Oberlin,” North answered.

“And why is that?” I asked.

“Because all roads lead to Oberlin,” North said, right on cue.

A little while later, having missed this exchange, Beth came back from her morning walk and said she supposed she wouldn’t need to use Siri to navigate because “…all roads lead to Oberlin.” In case you hadn’t guessed, this was the name of the accepted students’ day at Oberlin. It’s a slogan they’ve been using since we attended Oberlin in the mid-to-late 1980s and who knows how long before that?

It was a longer journey than we anticipated. The weather slowed us down—as we crossed Pennsylvania (this is the bulk of the drive) there was almost every kind of precipitation—rain, snow, sleet, hail, even graupel. The crazy thing was that in between, there would be bright, sunny spells. We also stopped a lot—for walking, restroom, and meal breaks, and Beth had to stop and work on an unexpected work project for a total of two hours, about half of that time in a Starbucks, the rest in parking lots, where I paced to get some steps. We left Takoma Park around 9:30 a.m. and didn’t arrive at our AirBnB in Oberlin until 9:30 p.m. We passed the time with a diverting mystery audiobook, so it didn’t seem that long.

The AirBnB was the same one where we stayed almost six years ago when Noah visited Oberlin as a prospective. I had a deeply evocative memory of lingering on the back porch on a cool summer morning watching the rain and trying to imagine him in college while he slept in. North would not have that opportunity, as the admitted students’ schedule was jam-packed. (Noah didn’t end up applying to Oberlin so we never did an admitted students’ event there with him.)


At eight a.m. Beth took North to pick up some coffee and a bagel at the Slow Train Café and then to registration, where the two of them met Oberlin’s mascot, an albino squirrel. (You occasionally see these, minus the Birkenstocks, on campus.) I stayed at the house to eat breakfast because we didn’t have any joint events with North until late morning. They were going from registration to sit in on a Psychology class, and then to a session for students interested in the pre-law program and other preprofessional majors. One of the features of the day was that they split up the kids from the parents more than at Johnson and Wales or St. Mary’s. As a result, North spent more time talking to current and prospective students than at the other schools and we think that gave them a better sense of the vibe of the place. “I can see myself here,” they said later in the day. It was also a softer sell. There were no announcements about where to go if you wanted to commit on the spot (at St. Mary’s they have a gong they ring when someone does).

Beth came back to the house, and we hung out until it was time to meet North for the President’s address in the lovely Finney Chapel. North said they’d found talking to the pre-law administrator informative and they enjoyed their class, which was in the same building I used to have psych classes (it was one of my two minors). From there, we were separated again. North had lunch at a dining hall while Beth and I ate with other parents and staff in a hotel. All day, whenever we told people in addition to being the parents of a prospective, we were also alumni, they were surprised and kind of delighted. The food, at least the vegetarian option, was less delightful. I needed to go back to the car to get some cheese and a hard-boiled egg to supplement it because it had almost no protein and I need some at every meal to keep my blood sugar regulated.

We met up with North in the lobby of the hotel where we left for a campus tour. North had requested a slower-paced one so it was a private tour.  I kind of miss hearing other people’s questions when it’s just us and a guide, but she happened to be interested in law and psychology, just like North, so they bonded over that and I always enjoy walking around Oberlin’s beautiful campus. Every now and then I would point out places of interest to North.

Afterward we stopped at the biggest classroom building on campus because North wanted to rest on a bench for a bit. Beth perused a directory and saw that an English professor we’d both had and another one I’d had at Oberlin were still there. It was kind of wild to think North could take a class from one of my old professors, just like Allison‘s daughter does. (Hi, Allison!).Next we went to drop-in hours at Disability Services where we had a chat with a staff member about the kinds of accommodations North might be able to get for migraines.  

And from there, it was off to a session about the practicing arts at Oberlin (all but music because there’s a whole conservatory for that). We listened to art, creative writing, dance, film, and theater professors and staff talk about their departments and then split off for a tour with the Managing Director for Theater, Opera, and Dance. We saw multiple theaters including a main stage and black box theater, backstage space, rehearsal spaces, the costume shop, and scenery shop. The facilities are extensive, impressive, and recently renovated. They put on ten major plays a year, plus smaller shows, not to mention dance and opera performances. It seems like quite a vibrant program. North is hoping to act in college and is thinking of minoring in theater.

The director had so much to say that the session ran over, but it didn’t really matter because our next stop was flexible. It was separate receptions, one for students and one for parents. Beth and I might have skipped this, as we’re not big on socializing with strangers, but we were both hungry, and we figured there would be food, so we went and snacked on crudites, cheese, chips with guacamole, and a frosted cookie in the shape of a white squirrel that we split. We were not entirely anti-social and did talk to the father of a prospective and an admissions staff member.

From there we went to have dinner at a dining co-op. Student-run housing and dining co-ops were one of the most important aspects of my time at Oberlin. I ate in co-ops all seven semesters I was on campus and lived in them five semesters. There’s something very empowering and educational about being part of a group endeavor like that. Over the years, I had jobs that ranged from doing KP, serving as a waiter, cooking, cleaning bathrooms, and acting as recycling coordinator for my house and a representative on the board. I met a lot of my friends in co-ops and had a lot of fun. I must have sold it well because North says they will definitely live in a co-op if they go to Oberlin. (The picture of North is outside Harkness, with the OSCA twin pine logo behind them.)

I never lived in Harkness, a vegetarian co-op, but I had a close friend who did, and I ate there one Winter Term when my regular dining co-op had closed for the month, so it was a familiar space. It really looks very much like it did in the 80s, including the industrial kitchen, where we went to bus our dishes after dinner.

We sat at a different table from North, so they could mingle more freely, and we listened to current students and prospective students at our table talk about things like if there’s “a good party scene” at Oberlin. (The answer was it depends a lot on what you mean by that.) We had salad, pizza that North later said tasted a lot like the homemade pizza we make every other Friday, and brownies.

It would have been nice to linger in Oberlin, but we had three-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of us because we were staying with Beth’s mom in Wheeling that night. Beth would be spending the week in West Virginia, and North and I would fly home from Pittsburgh the next day.

Saturday and Beyond

Our flight wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so we had time for a visit to a nearby coffeeshop, a walk around the neighborhood, and a visit with Beth’s aunt Carole. That morning in Wheeling, North declined their offer from Johnson and Wales, so it’s down to Saint Mary’s and Oberlin.

We came home to piles of clean, folded laundry on my bed and Noah making roasted cauliflower with yogurt sauce for dinner.  Almost immediately, I checked the porch ledge to see how the mourning dove chicks were doing. I don’t think I’ve mentioned them this year, but there’s a nest there every spring. Before we left, we’d gotten to the nerve-wracking part where the parents start to leave the babies alone, first occasionally, then for longer and longer periods. They do not always survive this. But the babies were alive and well and bigger than the last time I’d seen them. Over the course of the next few days, I saw the parents less and less and one of the chicks was creeping closer to the edge of the ledge, craning its neck to peer down, and wiggling all over. Later one of them seemed to be trying to open its wings. And this morning, when I went out to get the newspaper, one of them was perched on the wicker chair. I thought the other one was gone, but later I saw it on the porch floor. They spent the morning moving around the porch until one of them took off. The other one is still there as I write, but I doubt it will be there for long. Talk about symbolism. That’s a bit heavy-handed, universe.

North went to school Monday and Tuesday, and they have the day off today because it’s the day between third and fourth quarter. That drove home how little of North’s time in high school is left (six and a half weeks because the seniors get out three weeks before everyone else). It started with covid and virtual school, and if you’ve been reading here a while you know all the twists and turns there have been along the way. I feel grateful they are where they are today, at a fork in the road, with each path leading to a good place.

Update: Thursday, 4/11

All yesterday afternoon I kept peeking out at the remaining chick. I saw it taking little flights all over the porch and in the early evening, both parents came back to the ledge and called to it, and they all met on the porch floor and the adults fed it. The next time I checked, all four birds were gone, and I haven’t seen them since.

That night in a video call with Beth, who’s still in Wheeling, North told us they’d chosen Oberlin.