Leaving the Conservatory of Music is the most difficult decision of my professional life. It is my second departure from Oberlin, and this time I had a choice. The period of time I have served this institution has been the most extraordinary in my career. I have often been asked, “What is it like to be dean? Is it strange to work at a place where you were once a student?” My typical response has been: “I was nostalgic for about 10 minutes, then it turned into a job.”
Of course, those words do not capture the reality of the responsibility or the joy of being here, or the initial terror of being advanced to the position before I felt ready. Fortunately, the work quickly became about the future, not the past, and it was far more than a job—it was a spectacular opportunity. My nostalgia matured into a great pride in all the school had accomplished and a burning passion for it to reach further into its potential. That potential is in all of us—the Oberlin community—and I can say with conviction that Oberlin is one of the great schools in the world. I have exceptional friends and col- leagues here, and I will always miss them.
While I will serve other institutions in the future, there is only one Oberlin, a place that prepares, educates, inspires, and advocates for its students; a place where a unique combination of intensity and rural quiet attracts passionate and exceptionally talented people—mavericks with brilliant ability and a willingness to look beyond the traditional toward the exotic and the new. All of this coalesces to form the genius of this great school, and what wonderful graduates it sends into the world.
My own experience as a student at Oberlin was transformative, though I did not initially perceive it that way. I just loved the place. Beyond my brilliant teacher, Ron Bishop, I was fortunate to have courses with outstanding faculty who opened the world for all of us, though we did not realize the fundamental shift that was occurring as we moved from absorbing information, to cultivating knowledge, to developing perspective—perspective that informs us of how little we actually know. When I think of moments when I began to form my initial thoughts on leadership, Yeats comes to mind: “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking.” Something we all learn here is that serving communities and ideas beyond ourselves yields the greatest dividends, and if we are lucky, we get to blaze the trail and enjoy the journey. At Oberlin, the iron does not need to be made hot—it burns brightly all the time; the key to success is living happily in the flame. Thank you, Oberlin, for extending my education. I can never repay all that this institution has given me, and I will be forever grateful.