One reason that Sterling was such a special place for me was that it embodied so many ideals and ways of life that I already held dear before attending, while opening my eyes to other aspects of life, like the value of community service and the power of collaborating with others, which have since become integral parts of my daily routine.

An area of my life that I have become more and more aware of over the past few years is that of being a teacher, role model, and leader. Sometimes these leadership roles are assumed; for example, leading backpacking trips in northern Alaska with groups of high schoolers or guiding tourists safely on a glacier. At other times, a leadership void may open and someone needs to step in for a brief moment to provide guidance. This happens frequently while working with my peers at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Often, we will be sent out to pick up passengers or cargo from an airplane; there are a lot of little logistics that need to be managed in real time, and I often find myself making a plan and communicating it to my partners. I am not saying that I am the only one who sees what needs to be done, but rather that now comes more naturally. I think this is due in large part to the time spent working closely with small groups of peers at Sterling.

Another area that has developed for me over the years is decision making, and believe me, I have made some mistakes. Good judgment comes from experience, which often comes from poor judgment. As a guide I often have to make snap safety calls; at such times the thought occurs to me and I have to ask myself, what would Anne Morse do? What would Ned Houston do? Anne and Ned are two of the greatest influences in my life. One of the greatest things about asking myself what I think one or the other of them would do is that, in many cases, I think they would do things differently. Being able to see this dichotomy has let me see such cases elsewhere. This has helped me to appreciate how people think and reason differently, allowing me to, if not agree, at least understand why they do what they do. There are only a few, special people who have done more to help me along to this place, family aside, and Anne and Ned are at the forefront.

I see my peers and myself as stewards of not just our environment but also of a culture of education. Whether talking to a local in Bali and asking him where a recycling bin is, or using a travel mug at a fancy coffee shop in Sydney, I often get asked why I care about such things. The answers vary but typically it’s some variation of, ‘It makes sense.’

I believe that now more than ever it is our responsibility to protect the environment. Having been exposed to a large amount of information has helped me to draw parallels within my life, exposing the interconnectedness of so many things. When I was younger I loved to ride my bicycle everywhere because it was awesome. I still love to ride my bicycle everywhere, and now, besides being awesome, I know that I am not damaging the environment, the roads, or adding to traffic congestion. Also, keeping myself healthier puts less pressure on me as well as on the healthcare system that we all will rely on at some point. The money saved by biking can be used to offset the higher cost of tasty local or organic foods. I mean really, is there a downside to this bike thing?

What I am saying is that there is so much out there to know and see and do. Sterling was the right place for me and many others. Because of the place and the people there, there is a group of us wandering about who are looking at the world differently.

Did I learn everything I know while at school? Of course not. Did I gain ways of looking at and understanding my physical and social surroundings? You bet.

Fair winds,

Dan Schieffelin


Filed Under: Alumni Blog Sterling Speaks

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