Graduating Class Should Remember Gratitude

Robert N. Roth, Oberlin resident

To the Class of 2015 (and everyone else, including the administration, faculty and staff of Oberlin College):


It looks as if I will not be asked to be your commencement speaker this year (or any future year, as I am already an octogenarian), so I will use the Review to convey what I’d say, had I been invited to be under the awning with the Important People on Tappan Square.

I have lived in Oberlin in retirement nearly 25 years, and though I am not a graduate of the College, I am married to one and have a son who is one. I enjoyed the status of Affiliate Scholar and am celebrated on a brass plaque in Finney Chapel as one honored by the donations of my family toward the organ there.

Now that I hope my credentials are established, I feel justified in passing on to you future graduates of this institution a few observations which are intended to make you even better people than you already are, as you “commence” your journey into the “real world.”

First of all, I hope you will have many fond memories of your time here, as I do, and be thankful for all the opportunities offered to you. Be grateful for the chances you’ve had to make contact with all the outstanding people and things which have been so incredibly plentiful here and have surrounded you during your last four years.

But I must remind you of some situations where the College might have done better, because those memories can help you (and me!) avoid making the same mistakes we have been bothered by here.

I will focus on one in particular: communication with other people. Here I speak personally. In my 25 years here as a “townie” I have written, phoned or emailed “gownies” on at least 25 different occasions, expressing approval of actions taken, suggesting beneficial changes, offering assistance on promoting projects and a host of other attempts to be helpful in one way or another as an interested citizen of Oberlin. To my disappointment, I received very few positive responses, a few negative ones, but mostly no responses at all. I concluded after a while that the College just wasn’t interested in what someone outside the inner circle had to offer (with the exception, naturally, of money!)

Without laboring this point, I would like to suggest that you graduates begin by recognizing that the people you come in contact with often can contribute valuable ideas and broaden your vision of whatever endeavors you are engaged in. This may not only be beneficial to you, but it does much for the other person’s sense of worth. So, do respond to those who are interested enough in you to want to establish a dialogue. Personal example: I wrote to one of the most distinguished music critics in the country, complimenting him on an article he had written recently and sending him a document related to his piece which I thought he might not know about. Instead of benignly ignoring me, he replied with a hand-written note, thanking me for the document, which he hadn’t known about. It’s hard to describe the good feeling this simple act gave me. Or this example: I wrote some years back a short note to the Review, thanking a large number of Conservatory students for providing a weekend filled with incredible music for us all to enjoy. I was stopped on the street by one of these students, telling me how much my kind words meant to the musicians.

So, what does my address boil down to in a few words? The Golden Rule, I guess, which is still pretty good advice after all these years. Please don’t forget it, and I’ll try not to either.

–Robert N. Roth

Oberlin resident