Sarah Kahn '15

On coming to terms with her parents: "Only after moving five hundred miles away from my parents did we begin to really grow close, something my first-year self could never have predicted."


"Hi, Mom...Yes...Fine...Good."

Maybe once a week my first year, I was required to field the college check-in phone call from my parents. After all, I did rely on them to pay for my tuition and food. If I needed to have this same conversation every week with them, so be it. Still, I didn't have to tell them anything important about my Oberlin life, because now I was independent.

From what I can remember of my first year at Oberlin, I fulfilled the stereotype of sheltered suburban kid finding the freedom of leaving the nest. I stayed up late, partied a lot, and shirked as much responsibility as I could. In high school I had gotten used to rushing through schoolwork to leave enough time for various extracurricular activities, and I found I could use this skill at Oberlin as well. My homework was getting done as far as I was concerned; no one in my classes actually read every article on the syllabus, and it was common knowledge that going to class every day in college was not an official requirement. As far as my parents knew, my classes were "good" and everything else was "fine."

American Government: Politics and Policy, met from 8am to 10am Tuesday and Thursday. Each day I would pull my sleepy self out of bed, hopefully in time to grab coffee and a bagel from the dining hall downstairs, and rush over to the lecture hall. Undefined terms I had pulled from the discussion somehow ended up in my notes, but would be of little use to me. The class had no assessments, and as one of maybe a hundred students in the class, I could fairly easily go unnoticed. The syllabus did mention a final paper, but that wasn't until the end of the semester.

Suddenly, though, it was the end of the semester, and the final paper was due in three days. With a horrible feeling at the bottom of my throat, I pulled out my still-crisp syllabus. A ten-page research paper was indeed due in three days. It drew on class readings and discussions that I knew nothing about and a recommended six weeks' worth of research, which I had not begun.

I wish I could say that at that point, I asked for help. Instead, I found myself tearfully brainstorming any way out of the essay. Could I drop the class? No, it was the last week of classes and far too long past the deadline. How much would a failing grade affect my GPA? My post-grad options?

With a sinking feeling of dread I realized that there was absolutely no attractive alternative to writing this paper. I didn't see how I could take in a mere three days what should have been done over six weeks. Never before had I felt this disgust for inevitability; I was going to have to catch up on an entire semester's worth of material, and it was going to be terrible.

I holed myself up in Slow Train Cafe with my horrific, jumbled notes and all the articles I had failed to read. I could no longer dread, try to avoid, or worry about the paper. All that was left for me was to sit down and put in some honest effort. The process was terrible, but not nearly as terrible as my laziness would have me believe. Two days later, I had something of a coherent, though miserable, essay. Thankfully, I received a C in the class.

When in my second semester I found classes and teachers that truly fascinated me, the lethargy of my fall semester began to weigh on my conscience. Oberlin had a wealth of resources and opportunities that I had totally neglected. While my peers had been enjoying Oberlin's distinguished speakers, world-class concerts, and dedicated mentors, and taking advantage of all the incredible opportunities available here, I had been isolating myself from Oberlin's rich intellectual culture. What was more, my parents were paying thousands upon thousands of dollars—an almost unfathomable sum of money—for me to attend Oberlin. I felt like a waste of resources, and this guilt propelled my genuine engagement in classes and activities at Oberlin.

It was after this shift that my phone conversations with my parents grew gradually longer. Whenever I have aches and pains, I can call my dad at all hours of the day for some free medical expertise. He will tell me not to worry, or that I should see this doctor or take this medicine. While on vacation this summer, he personally helped me drain green pus from a disgusting looking blister. He coached me through a string of scary emergency room visits last spring all over the phone. When we talk now, he tells me about his blueberry growing project, work struggles, or vacation plans. Conversations with my mom are filled with talk of how seemingly no man is good enough for me. She reassures me that I don't have to make a million dollars, just find a job that makes me happy. In the past two years I have learned so much more about my parents and their lives.

Only after moving five hundred miles away from my parents did we begin to really grow close, something my first-year self could never have predicted. Having distance from my parents forced me to realize how much I needed to rely on them. The changed perspective that my first year at Oberlin brought helped me finally get to know my parents as people, and I am happy and privileged to call them friends.


Submitted by Sarah Kahn '15.

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