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Remembering Jonathan Demme

May 5, 2017

  Photo by John Seyfried

It has been an honor and privilege during my time at Oberlin to teach and to get to know so many students from the College and Conservatory. And unlike most Oberlin presidents past, I’ve also come to know many of our students’ parents and families.

Just a few decades ago, it was unusual for an Oberlin president to know students’ parents and families. Now parents and families are increasingly involved. Parents often stay for a day or two when they drop off their first-year student. Some return for our parents and families weekend. Others make the trip to attend their child’s recitals or concerts or performances, or to see them compete in athletics. And thanks to communications technology, students and parents routinely talk and text. And I can attest that many parents don’t hesitate to contact me about a range of issues relating to their child’s Oberlin experience.

While too much parental involvement can be a problem, colleges must acknowledge that parents and families play a crucial role in helping their child succeed. So I want to take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate parents and families for entrusting us with their loved ones. A healthy relationship between parents, students, and Oberlin can really enhance a student’s chances for success here and in life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Oberlin parents and families since I received the sad news last week that Jonathan Demme, the brilliant film director, had passed away. Jonathan’s daughter Ramona and son Brooklyn are Oberlin graduates. I got to know Jonathan when he visited and, over the years, we became quite friendly. He was not just a great artist. He was a great person, and I’m deeply saddened by his passing.

Although Oberlin isn’t his alma mater, Jonathan really came to appreciate the College, Conservatory, and our community. His visits always seemed to energize him, and he became a stalwart supporter of our cinema studies program and the Apollo Outreach Initiative, which offers filmmaking classes to local school kids. He even premiered his documentary I’m Carolyn Parker here in 2011.

Jonathan did those things because he, like thousands of other parents, believed in and supported his kids and believed in and supported Oberlin’s mission.

In my time at Oberlin, parents such as Jonathan have done so much not just for their child but to further the mission of the College and the Conservatory and to help us build a bright future for the institution and for this community.

Some of those parents are, of course, Oberlin alumni. We have a long tradition of multi-generation Oberlin families. Many member of our Board of Trustees, for example, have children who graduated from Oberlin or are current students.

But what is especially heartening is how parents who had no prior connection to this place embrace our mission and support Oberlin. One such parent is currently serving on our board.

Oberlin parents do so many things. They help create internship and job opportunities for our students. They provide winter term and summer housing. They serve as a sounding board, giving us valuable feedback on our programs and initiatives. They provide financial support for programs and scholarships. And their generosity has helped us revitalize our athletics and health and wellness facilities, build the Gateway Center, and rescue and renovate the Apollo Theatre.

I could go on. But the most important thing I want to say is—thank you. Thank you to the Demme family and to all Oberlin parents for everything they do. You and your children have made Oberlin a better place. I am deeply grateful.

Parents and families are also on my mind because Commencement is fast approaching. Witnessing the enormous pride of parents and families is the part of Commencement that I find most moving. So as we head to finals, remember that we are all part of an extended family, including our friends, at Oberlin.

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