Sometimes planning is overrated. Sometimes thinking is overrated. Sometimes the best things happen when you just act. That’s what happened on my 50th birthday. Though it’s a concept I had thought about before, what’s become the “50 Years – 50 States – 50 Speeches Expedition” was an idea that literally popped into my head on the morning of my birthday. I knew if I thought about it too much — with all the challenges,
logistics, and complications — I’d talk myself out of it. So I announced the ambitious project to give speeches at no charge to schools in all 50 U.S. states (plus territories), and in so doing, dove into the deep end of a new endeavor that is rapidly taking on a life of its own. And that’s the best part of it.
As I learn more and more about the diverse group of schools I’ll be visiting, I realize that I’ll be learning as much from them as they will from me. At first I had playfully called this an “expedition,” but in many ways, it really will be a voyage of discovery, in this case, to better understand what students around the country think and understand about our oceans. How many have never seen the oceans? How many are aware of the oceans’ problems? What are their career aspirations? The answers are bound to be different from Honolulu to Bellevue, Nebraska — or are they?
Years ago I taught marine biology at Seacamp/Newfound Harbor Marine Institute in the Florida Keys, and I suppose those roots are resurfacing now. I saw incredible transformations in the students we taught there. I remember teaching a Girl Scout program for five summers. On the first day of class I told the terrified girls that we’d be swimming with the (small) sharks in our holding pond on the last day of class a week later. And I remember well that last day of class when the girls were having so much fun swimming with the sharks that I couldn’t get them out!
I still believe in nature’s magic. Its beauty, wonders and mystery are potent and transformative, especially for a young student. I look forward to sharing my stories and adventures of the ocean with the thousands of students I visit during this project, to bring them a bit closer to that magic. And I eagerly anticipate the inspiration and enlightenment this incredibly diverse group of students — and their teachers — will bring to us.
Please accept my warmest wishes for an unscripted and very happy New Year!