By Erica M. Lee
To demonstrate their love for The Office and all things Ed Helms ’96, Oberlin students did the wave in Finney Chapel—multiple times. Slow claps and stomping finally brought the superstar onto the stage and the audience exploded, giving him an initial standing ovation.
“We have a problem,” Ben Jones, VP of Communications, leaned over to tell Marvin Krislov as Krislov was introducing Helms. A Safety and Security officer then walked onstage, carrying a massive folder, pink slips hanging out, of Helms’s legal issues with the college.
“I remember you,” said Helms, speaking to the Officer in a wary tone. “You ruined my parties.” Among the fake fines were outstanding parking tickets, library bills ($985 plus interest, compounded annually), and a bill of damage assessment and repair costs from Helms’s Tank room in OSCA.
During his speech, Helms mostly stuck to Oberlin inside jokes. “The memories just come flooding back–tailgating at football games, fraternity parties, escorting Mary Jane Simpson to the Castilian Ball…oh wait, those are the memories of every other person who went to college in America.”
He asked those packed into Finney repeatedly why we love Oberlin. He listed all the reasons we shouldn’t love it. “The motto here is ‘Learning and Labor,’ both of which suck…and we really messed up in the mascot department,” he said. “It’s a guy with wheat strapped to his back.”
He also laughed at our dorm life. “Awesome! South Hall, woo! Nothing like 1972 Moscow.” Even the co-ed bathrooms, which he had hoped would be “a little naughty, maybe,” turned out to be a disappointment. “There’s nothing less arousing than hearing the woman you have a crush on take a huge dump.”
Finally answering his question about why we love Oberlin, Helms said, “We love it, I guess, right? Because we’re nerds.”
Helms then turned to the piano, relishing that he could play the piano on stage with administrative approval. He sat down at the piano and mused, “Well, what would I play? What’s worthy of Finny Chapel and the Great Steinway Piano?” The obligatory “Freebird!” was yelled from someone in the crowd. “Freebird did cross my mind,” Helms said, before playing his song from The Hangover and doing an Elton John frog-in-throat impression.
He got up from the piano and decided to give some serious anecdotal advice to Oberlin students about following their dreams. He told the tale of Rodney Peppercorn, the “black belt ninja of baton expertise,” who inspired six-year-old Edward to perform a baton-twirling routine at his brother’s twelfth birthday party.
After Helms performed at the party, his brother and his friends stared in shock. Then “He [his brother] wrests the baton, the scepter of my dreams, from my hands and begins to beat me with the baton…I’m crying, and I’m curled up in the fetal position, and I’m looking at my brother. He’s curled up in the fetal position because he’s laughing so hard. We had one of those moments of fraternal communication, where you know what the other is thinking, without saying anything. And I was saying, ‘Well why? Why are you doing this?’ And he’s looking at me, and his eyes are just saying, ‘Because you’re such an idiot.’”
He recounted the advice his dad gave him afterwards. “‘Edward, I want to tell you something. You have a gift. I have never seen anything like that. I mean, it really looks like you took professional training to get to where you are with that baton. I’m blown away. Don’t ever do it again.’”
Helms wanted to share the one lesson from the story. “Do it anyway. Do it anyway…I always wonder what my life might have been had I just said, ‘You know what? Dad? Brother? I don’t need your judgment. I’m going to twirl a goddamn baton for the rest of my life.’”
Helms then showed off the musical knowledge he gained from his time at Oberlin. He shared an interpretation of Yanni, a contemporary composer.
“Let it wash over you,” he started as the epic, Lord of the Rings-type music grew. He described the highway that he sees, the Camaro that Yanni is driving, the clothes he’s wearing. “You can see my silhouette perfectly and all of my genitals.” When he flew off the cliff, “Two Pegasi rise out of the waves, white Pegasi, and they start galloping towards us in the air…and now, Yanni and I are riding goddamn Pegasi”
“Do you feel it?” he asked the crowd, “Do you feel it, Oberlin? Feel the power of Yanni? Those are my hopes and dreams for all of you—that you may someday feel, metaphorically of course, the power of Yanni in your own lives.”
After introducing students to Yanni, Helms brought Jake Tilove ‘96, from Helms’s original band, Weedkillers, Chris Eldridge ‘04, and Erin Lobb ‘11, a Conservatory student, on the stage to play bluegrass for about half an hour. Helms played banjo and sang.
The question and answer session of the Convocation focused on his time as a student as well. He divulged the room numbers of the dorms he lived in, his winter term projects, and his impressions of the swim coach, among other tidbits. When asked by a townie why he doesn’t look like an Oberlin student, he answered, “Have you seen my yearbook picture?”
There you go.