Despite Troubling Times, Obies Can Thrive

This has been a year full of unforeseen challenges — at Oberlin and beyond. As an international student, I have been stuck in the United States, away from my family and “remote” from my professors and peers. Fortunately, I somehow managed to maintain my unconditional optimism. With a new school term underway, I have had the chance to reconnect (with safety measures) with some of my fellow Obies, and I’m happy to discover that the Dementors have not yet sucked the courage and hope out of our community.

I recall a conversation I had with a fourth-year last October. “Obies always seem concerned,” they said. “Like walking The Thinkers?” We laughed. Indeed, Oberlin has had a long history of nurturing critically thinking minds, which are occupied with not only their personal interests but also the welfare of others. This quality is marked by the Memorial Arch in Tappan Square and visible in the recent efforts in support of Oberlin’s union workers. It is a quality that was proposed by Fan Zhongyan in his far-reaching quote “Be the first to bear the world’s hardship, and the last to enjoy its comfort” (先天下之憂而憂,後天下之樂而樂).

Fan’s words serve to remind us of the importance of retaining concern even when all is well. But as history has shown, it is equally necessary to stay positive during tough times. 

Amidst the chaos of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a group of Chinese scholars and aspiring college students gathered in Kunming, Yunnan and formed the temporary National Southwestern Associated University. They conducted their studies in poorly equipped lecture halls built with insufficient material and time, and had to run down the valleys to shelter themselves when alarms indicated the approach of enemy bombers. 

Anyone would agree that it wasn’t the perfect time for education. Nonetheless, most students actively engaged in academics and extracurricular activities, organizing outdoor poetry parties when not dealing with the horror of running from incoming bombs. As a result, this institution, which only existed for eight years, was responsible for countless internationally influential intellectuals, including Nobel laureates in physics, Yang Chen-Ning and Tsung-Dao Lee.

All times are good times for those who stay focused and make the most out of the time. Obies, I believe, are such people. To quote Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Wendy Hyman, “We don’t get to choose when we were born. We don’t choose what natural disasters, epidemiological emergencies, stock market crashes, tyrannical regimes, or wars our generations face. We only get to choose how we react. We can use it as a way to pour our energy back into the world.”