I'm spending the next couple of days at my alma mater, Oberlin College, which is a small liberal arts college in northeast Ohio. Oberlin is best known for two things: its music conservatory (one of the top two or three in the country) and its strong tradition of supporting progressive social change. Oberlin was the first school in the U.S. to grant degrees to women, and the first to grant degrees to African-Americans, and has continued that tradition with strong campus and community involvement in everything from the underground railroad, the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam war, and in my day, activism on gay rights, AIDS awareness, and action against the first war in Iraq.
This is the first time I've visited Oberlin since 2001, and it's extraordinary to be back here. My experience at Oberlin was everything people hope a college education can be: it expanded my intellectual horizons, balanced and deepened my political and social commitments, formed the basis for personal relationships and personal skills that have served me ever since, and was a hell of a great time, too. My time here was so fundamental to who I've become, and such a truly happy time in my life, that visiting here feels like a return to home in a profound way.
I graduated from Oberlin in 1992, and on this visit, I'm also struck by how very long ago that now feels.Â My attachment to Oberlin has made it a recurring place in my dreams over the year, and after so many years away, it now seems more familiar as a place I visit it dreamladn than as a place I actually live. As I see some of the faculty friends I've stayed in touch with over the years, I realize I'm now at the age and life stage they were at when I was an undergraduate.Â And then there is the most obvious change: students now walk around talking on cell phones.
I'm here for a symposium on entrepreneurship; I'm speaking tomorrow about social entrepreneurship in particular. In this context, I'm thinking a lot about how my experience at Oberlin contributed to my development as a (then future) entrepreneur. I started a couple of campus groups, gaining experience that in retrospect was key to my learning how to start stuff. And what I learned about social movements — in class no less — that has evolved into part of our business knowledge.
One of the things I spent some time studying — in a preliminary way — was ethical business practice. My very last paper at Oberlin was about labour relations at Ben & Jerry's, which provided a great excuse to think about what responsible business looked like while eating a lot of ice cream. I was totally obsessed with Ben & Jerry's at that time; when I get home I'll dig out and scan the photo of my freezer just before my 21st birthday party, when it was full of about 15 pints of ice cream, representing every available B&J flavor. So it's a great thrill that the first keynote of the symposium is being presented by Jerry Greenfield (Oberlin '73), who is talking about his own experience with entrepreneurship.
I'm live blogging Jerry's keynote — and despite time changing, I'm still the only person in the room with an open laptop! It feels a little incongruous, but it does help counteract this feeling of being SO old.