A New Set of Graduates, Ready to Take on the World!

Thursday, March 21st dawned bright and snowy. The sun lit up a pale blue sky. Fourteen graduate students excitedly anticipated the start of their 2pm Graduation Ceremony. The dress was “mountain formal”—think clean, semi-dressy clothes, sensible shoes with good soles, often topped with a fleece jacket. The final guests were arriving. Staff were busily making arrangements and setting up rooms.
A little before 2:00, people began finding seats in the Dining Hall, which had been converted into an auditorium, quiet conversations filling up the room.

Cohort 11 students Elise Ehrheart, Colby Mitchell, and Mollie Behn are all dressed up on Graduation Day. Photo by Elise Ehrheart

But maybe I should rewind and start at the beginning of the week…

Sunday evening, the members of cohort 11 and their families started arriving, trickling into the office in groups of three or four. They greeted their return to the mountains with smiling faces, hugs, and excited shouts.
Monday morning started three full days of Capstone Presentations, the final culminating project of North Cascade Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed program. Although each student had a different presentation style, all were high quality and interesting. They covered topics ranging from place-based writing and reflection, hope, and underwater photography, to exploring the idea of human exceptionalism (the belief that humans are superior to other organisms on the planet) and its place in today’s world.
A common thread wove through each of the 14 different topics—place. Chris Kiser told us that “a place is a piece of land that has been claimed by feelings.” Sarah Bernstein, quoting Wendell Barry, suggested that “you can’t know who you are until you know where you are.” And Susan Brown, in her infinate wisdom, reminded us to “block out the noise and listen to the earth.”
Wednesday night, after the final presentation, cohort 11 was ready to let loose. Or sleep. It may have been a toss up.

Elise Ehrheart, speaking during her Capstone Presentation, titled “The Essential Ingredient: How Hope Sustains Us.” Photo from Elise Ehrheart
 Ashley Kvitek, giving her capstone presentation on stewardship and the role of education in Land Trusts. Photo by Ryan Weisberg

By the time Graduation rolled around on Thursday afternoon, the atmosphere was full of adrenalin. The room was buzzing, everyone full to bursting of so many different emotions. I, for one, felt a little overwhelmed by it all. I met the 14 graduates over a year and half ago when they first moved up to the Learning Center. I was in the middle of my third year as a Seasonal Naturalist. I didn’t know then that I would soon be a graduate student too. Seeing them now, sitting at the front of the room, dressed up, I felt both sad and happy. 

(L-R) Graduate Program Coordinator Stephanie Bennett, former Graduate Program Coordinator Tanya Anderson, Program Manager Katie Roloson, Advisor and Professor (Western Washington University faculty) John Miles, North Cascades Institute Executive Director/Nonprofit Class Instructor Saul Weisberg. Photo by Christian Martin
Cohort 11 student Emmanuel Camarillo, reading part of a poem the graduate students wrote to close the ceremony. Photo by Christian Martin
John Miles and Saul Weisberg, after the Graduation. John is sporting a brand new t-shirt designed by cohort 11. Photo by Christian Martin
Cohort 11 paddling the Salish Dancer one last time as a whole group for the Passing of the Paddle Ceremony. (Notice the paddle in the middle of the canoe, standing upright with a red blade.) Photo by Christian Martin

After the Passing of the Paddle (during which the outgoing cohort symbolically hands the reins over to the current cohort by giving them a paddle with all previous graduates names on it), we in cohort 12 gave a gift and a challenge to the brand new graduates. We read one of my favorite childhood books, Miss Rumphius, and in the spirit of the story, we challenged them to make the world more beautiful.
It’s hard to believe that in just one short year it’ll be me up there at the front of the room. Me standing to receive my certificates and diploma. Me leaving the North Cascades to try my luck somewhere else. But I still have a whole year, and I’m going to make the most of it.

The first photograph I saw of cohort 11 before they became my roommates, neighbors, community, and friends. (summer 2011) Photo by Tanya Anderson
Cohort 11 by Diablo Lake on graduation day! (spring 2013) Photo by Christian Martin
Leading photo: Cohort 11 graduate students with Saul Weisberg and John Miles, cheering after the graduation ceremony ended. Photo by Christian Martin

Ryan Weisberg is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Ryan grew up here in Washington, exploring the natural areas around Bellingham and in the Cascades. Ryan is the Chattermarks editor this year during their residency at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.


  1. John Miles

    Ryan, you captured the spirit! Thank you!

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