To Whom It May Concern:
Describing for the world what my passion in life is has the potential to become very personal and may seem a bit cliché to some, but I hope that you, the reader, will know that I am writing with the deepest authenticity and highest amount of transparency that I find possible and appropriate. For obvious reasons, I am unable to detail the most complicated inter-workings of my mind, and this is only a simplified version of my passion.
“…[F]or the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time.” This quote from Gifford Pinchot on conservation concisely describes my passion in life: lastingly helping people to the highest degree with the highest efficiency.
I suppose I should start with how this became my passion, and why I think it is that passing on sustainable smiles is what keeps me going.
I will blame genetics, primarily. My mother raised me in a home of care and kindness, consideration and self-awareness, and always was putting others before herself. I was hesitant to accept her loving and overwhelming help when I was sick growing up, but I was always glad to return her limitless compassion when I could. But this compassion extended beyond the household—for both of us. My mother is a wise and observant woman. After growing up with three older siblings and watching from the back-burner, she has always had a knack for swooping in with just the right cure to soothe a person or situation. And so I took on these characteristics as well. I have always been observant of my peers and, having little experience with anything but love, it never occurred to me to treat my peers with anything less.
It was not long into my public education that I became the playground mediator for all issues between friends, and the acting middleman between the kids suffering from issues beyond my ability and the school counselor. I thought that I might someday be a school counselor, but my mother’s empathy was also passed down and I was unable to handle much of others’ adversity before also bursting into an incoherent emotional puddle.
I yielded my playground role after a few years, but never stopped being a friend to anyone who I could see needed it or was willing enough to ask, a role I maintain to this day.
In middle school I had enough of my own interpersonal issues—dealing with braces, a bad haircut, and a flat chest—to really spend too much time concerned with the issues of people outside of my small friend group, but I became interested in charity work. It wasn’t until high school, though, that I actively took part in local volunteer opportunities. As a teenager raised in a society that demands great and immediate satisfaction, I had difficulty feeling as though I was really contributing as much as I could through helping with the Kiwanis Club Pancake Day at the local recreation center, so I searched farther.
With the recovery efforts in New Orleans still underway from Hurricane Katrina, I received an invitation from the People to People Ambassadors program in 2011 to spend a week in Louisiana doing all that a group of 17-year-olds could, and it was eye opening. Having the chance to interact with other people who were genuinely caring and helpful was incredible, and inspired me to continue that type of work in the future.
In high school I learned about photography and it was brought to my attention that I wasn't half bad. It also came to my attention that the most effective way to help people was through things you were good at and loved doing. So, with those two bits of knowledge in hand, I decided that becoming a humanitarian photojournalist was the best career path for me. I was excited as I was about to begin studying through Ohio University’s Visual Communication program and in one of the most recognized photojournalism schools, but my time outside of photography was quickly engaged in new activities.
I started rock climbing after coming back from volunteering in New York for All Hands Volunteers, gutting houses after Superstorm Sandy. The experience of living in a house of genuinely good people was amazing yet again, but rock climbing was exhilarating. Before starting my freshman year of college I spent a week in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky with three inspiring leaders—who later became good friends—and a group of other nervous incoming freshman as we climbed up and repelled down rock faces, camped in the woods, and ate amazing foods. It was awesome in the truest sense of the word. I photographed the whole time, and enjoyed offering encouragement and advice in addition to being able to deliver images to people of them doing such incredible things.
During my first semester as a photojournalism major I never really lost sight of my passion, though the path to get there did begin to drift in another direction. That winter break I took a class on ecotourism, but it wasn’t your traditional class. We were backpacking, repelling, whitewater rafting, surfing, and learning about the local culture of one of my favorite countries—Costa Rica. I began enjoying photographing us doing all these things simply to document the experience and knowing how pleased everyone would be to have them afterwards, but I also spent time living in the moment. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to deliver memorable images after such an experience, but it that wasn't the part of the experience I was most excited about, and I began to rethink the method I was using to sustain my passion.
The next semester had a rough start as I began to lose faith in my ability to use photography to fulfill my passion, my classes were putting a thick shadow over my end-goal, and I was missing the Costa Rican jungle. Luckily for my sanity, I was in a very bad “sledding” accident, and, despite (or maybe due to) my really really bad concussion, I was able to reconsider my life’s priorities. I had learned about the major of Outdoor Recreation and Education and all the things that I could do with it while talking to the other students in Costa Rica, and I knew, as I lay around in a foggy state of mind, that I wanted to be outside showing people how to do the types of things I have done.
I was ecstatic. I didn’t fully take on my new major until the spring semester of 2015, and it was the happiest I had ever been. Everyone that I talk to loves life. We are having fun and setting ourselves up to help people to enjoy the same types of life-changing experiences that we are able to take part in almost every week. We love being outside, teaching people, talking to people, taking risks, and sharing experiences—and we are good at it.
In my first year at a university, I learned that not everyone was going to be able to give me back as much love as I gave to them, and that is why it became so important for me to go outside; nature loves me no matter what, and inspires unlikely groups to love each other. I am passionate about helping people, and I know that through the field of outdoor recreation and education I will be filled with enough compassion to give to all my participants and be able to see the change that I have facilitated by the end of our time together.