As I prepare to leave the reunion I’m washed under the same kind of thoughts that accompanied my graduation. I feel blessed to have been a part of this college, this institution. I feel remarkably sad at the prospect of the great distances that are about to be put between these people, about whom I care deeply, and myself. It’s a more acute version of the sadness that follows a birthday and birthday party. It is the moment of dawning realization, the moment where you realize that tomorrow won’t be hedonistically focused on making you feel special and loved. Tomorrow you won’t be entitled to expect perfect moments of encapsulated joy; tomorrow it’s back to the task of carving out a life. Tomorrow it’s back to assumed anonymity rather than expected recognition.
I was immensely fortunate. Out of the roughly 600 people in the graduating class something like 65 class of ’01 folks showed up. Of those were many of the people who most shaped my Oberlin experience. There were certainly people whom I would have loved to have seen (Ann, Ellen, Beth, Rachel). But to see Aaron, Neil, Dave, Josh, JKD, Ben and Naomi as well as Melissa and Noah felt like a fulfilling reunion.
The reunion was a chance for people to remind one another of moments of glory and moments of imfamy. Old nicknames resurfaced and "whatever happened to" session broke out like dandelions in an abandoned field, each querry sparking a new round. There were numerous moments where a story, in which I played a role, was told and I felt like I was hearing it for the first time. People you never liked before you weren’t forced to love now, but you had to admit that seeing them made the experience fuller. Each of us addressed or confronted old traumas, challenging old demons in the face of old friends…and in the end while some had left scars none had left us disfigured or embittered.
We’ve left Oberlin only to return as if for the first time. In some ways we’ve regressed to near copies of our first week freshman year selves. We cling to our groups; cleave to anyone who, by their presence alone, will suggest that we have friends here. The fear and timidity of freshman year is nothing like that of the newly reunited. As freshman, while afraid and lonely, we recognized that each of us faced the same new problems. But at the reunion there is a sense that everyone else knows more people, has more friends and may just have had a more meaningful time at Oberlin. The intervening years have brought definition and purpose, heartbreak and joy and yet we’re terrified to face our classmates without a brace of Obies. We travel in amorphous packs to bathrooms, dinners and events. The worst fear is that you’ll be left alone, or arrive and be lonely.
It’s been just under 8 years since I first set foot on Oberlin’s campus (as a student). The experience of Oberlin and memories and friendships formed there have in many ways dominated the better part of a third of my life. Neil and I were talking and we realized that the change you see between an old high school friend and an old college friend is remarkable. High schoolers are nearly raw clay ready for formation into vases or bowls, cups or plates. College kids seem to be once fired pieces, all that remains is some kind of finishing glaze. The changes I saw in my friends over the first 4 years I knew them dwarf whatever changes the past four have brought. Being back at Oberlin only reinforces that knowledge. Walking past the building which brought structure and order to those changes just works to remind me (and I think us) that we are very much the same person we were when we left and not at all the same person as when we arrived. Oberlin has marked us, has made us pieces that fit together. Not quite a matching set, but certainly complimentary.