Roommates by Chance, Friends by Choice: Four Years of Randomly Assigned Companionship


Courtesy of Judd Wexler and Silas Pelkey

College fourth-years Judd Wexler and Silas Pelkey, pictured here as third-years, planned to live together for all four years of college before the pandemic interfered.

In a year characterized by separation, cohabitating has offered comfort and camaraderie to a senior class whose final semesters look a little different. Funnily enough, nearly four years after they met, many members of the graduating class are still living with their randomly assigned first-year roommates. 

First-year students are confronted with new experiences every day in the early weeks of college. The bonds forged during the first few weeks of college have to be both strong and flexible to endure that time’s stress and trepidation. Going on four years of rooming together, fourth-years Bhairavi Mehra and Micaela Pirzio-Biroli remember supporting each other a lot as they acclimated to college. 

“Our first year, we would go to bed at the same time,” Mehra said. “We would talk to each other from across the room in our respective beds for like an hour or two. Just processing our own experiences, but also this very new, weird space of Oberlin and all the different dynamics and other little spaces that exist within that.” 

Fourth-year Will Hagan and his roommate Luke Volkert also helped each other navigate the unfamiliarity of Oberlin as first years. 

“I’ve always had trouble adjusting to new environments,” said Hagan. “Having someone sort of built-in who was doing that with me and we were sort of on the same team, that was really very helpful.”

For all of these pairs, having someone by their side from day one gave them a strong foundation off of which to build other relationships and to explore new spaces. 

On the first day of orientation in 2017, when newly matched roommates Silas Pelkey and Judd Wexler were just getting to know each other over lunch, Pelkey accidentally set off the fire alarm in Stevenson dining hall. Standing there amid the throng of other first-years and their parents, he was flustered and embarrassed. But the fact that he already had a friend by his side on the first day made the moment much more bearable. 

“Without [Judd] I think I would have been too mortified to leave my dorm for the rest of the day,” said Pelkey. 

Many of these pairs run in different social circles, but share a special connection with their roommate. Pelkey and Wexler are not sure they would have even met if they had not been matched to live together. Pelkey studies biology and is on the fencing team, while Wexler studies psychology and is a member of the bowling team. 

“We have pretty different Oberlin bubbles,” said Pelkey.

On the surface, Pirzio-Biroli and Mehra have very different ways of interacting with people, but being roommates pushed them to get to know each other and discover their compatibility. 

“On CoStar our basic identities are a sad face, but everything else is a happy face,” said Mehra.  

College fourth-year roommates Will Hagan and Luke Volkert masterfully recreate a photograph of themselves as first-years for the Review. (Courtesy of Will Hagan and Luke Volkert)

Bonds grow deep over the course of cohabitating for four years — sometimes to the point of unintelligibility. 

“I will say a lot of our communication has, at this point, turned into total nonsense,” said Hagan.  “We’ve said almost everything that we could possibly say to another person at this point.”

But these friendships don’t always start off easy. Before nervous first-years move in and meet one another, they must conduct the time-honored tradition of social-media-stalking and snap-judgment-making. 

“I was totally prejudiced going into this whole thing,” Hagan said. “I definitely thought he would be a little more bro-y than he is … but [he] broke those barriers down. I was wrong.” 

Volkert, too, had his assumptions about the person with whom he was soon going to be living. 

“I kind of sensed, ‘Oh, this is the typical Oberlin student,’” Volkert said. “I asked him ‘What kind of music are you into?’ and he was like ‘Neutral Milk Hotel’”

Fortunately, Volkert was able to see past Hagan’s musical preferences, and they managed to form a lasting, neutral-lactose-free, friendship. 

If it were not for COVID-19, Judd Wexler and Silas Pelkey would also be a four-year roommate pair. Before the pandemic shut everything down, Wexler and Pelkey had already signed a lease on an apartment together for their senior year. However, when the 2020 fall semester started, Wexler chose not to return to campus. Wexler’s bedroom in the apartment now is unoccupied, and the two friends mourn the loss of their senior year together. However, they are both grateful for the years that they lived together, and for that fateful random roommate assignment back in 2017.

 “I definitely gained a best friend,” Pelkey said.