C10 Graduation: A Celebration of Endings and Beginnings

March 15th marked a day of celebration for Cohort 10 graduate students at the end of a long journey as they completed their Master’s in Environmental Education from Western Washington University and received certificates in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration from the North Cascades Institute.
Institute staff and current Cohort 11 graduate students were joined by family and friends of Cohort 10 at the Environmental Learning Center to honor the achievements of this talented, lively, and inspiring bunch: Teresa Mealy, Kate Rinder, Stephanie Bennett, Codi Hamblin, Stephanie Pate, Nick Mikula, Clint Hensley, David Strich, Cece Bowerman, Elizabeth Penhollow, and Scott Davis.
C10 graduate students have spent the last two years living, learning, and teaching together while immersed in the natural world extending from the peaks of the Cascade mountains to the coastal waters of the Puget Sound. This group came together in June 2010 in Bellingham for a summer of exploration before moving to the Environmental Learning Center in North Cascades National Park to begin their year-long residency. During that year, these students gained hands-on experience as educators and staff working for a variety of Institute programs, including Mountain School, Base Camp, Family Getaways, Adult Programs, and Summer Youth programs. In the winter, Cohort 10 focused on project-based coursework in curriculum development and nonprofit management as they gained skills and understanding in how nonprofit organizations work, grow, and thrive. This year-long experience also provided opportunity for these students to cultivate a deeper connection to the North Cascades and to each other as they explored the region by foot, canoe, ski, and snowshoe.
Following the residency, the grads returned to Bellingham to spend their last two quarters back at Western Washington University’s campus where they applied their experience in the mountains to educational theory and various in-depth research projects.

Cohort 10 Grad Teresa Mealy hugs professor John Miles as she receives her certificates in Nonprofit Administration and Leadership. Photo courtesy of Jess Newley.
Cohort 10 grads share in a moment of appreciation with professor John Miles, Saul Weisberg, and Tanya Anderson. Photo courtesy of Jess Newley.
John, Saul, and Tanya help celebrate the accomplishments of Cohort 10. Photo courtesy of Jess Newley.

The graduation ceremony was filled with reflections, laughter, poetry, insight, and perhaps a few tears as stories were shared recalling the breath of experiences of this group of Master’s students. Former Graduate Program Coordinator, Tanya Anderson, returned from her new home in the Tetons to help celebrate Cohort 10 as she toasted to the uniqueness and strengths of each individual and remarked on the growing cadre of talent entering the field of environmental education. Western Washington University graduate professor John Miles applauded C10 on their dedication to developing as educators, and thanked them for sharing their passions and talents with him and with the larger North Cascades community. North Cascades Institute Executive Director, Saul Weisberg, also commended these students on all the hard work they put into receiving their Nonprofit Administration and Leadership certificates, honoring their efforts as valued students and staff at the Institute, and wishing them well in their future endeavors. C10 then shared a wonderful slideshow highlighting their past two years together which sent murmurs throughout the audience of how fun their experience must have been set against a backdrop of such expansive mountains, river valleys, and treescapes. The ceremony ended with reflections by Stephanie Bennett and Dave Strich on their group’s initial introductions to each other, followed by heartfelt thank you’s to the staff and faculty at Western and the Institute who have guided their learning experience.

Cohort 10 and Cohort 11 take a few moments together after the passing of the paddle of the ceremony. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Penhollow.

After the ceremony, Cohort 10 led members of Cohort 11 in a tradition of “passing the paddle” where the outgoing group hands off a paddle listing the names of all previous graduates to the next cohort, symbolizing the passing of a torch to continue the spirit of adventure and learning from one generation of cohorts to the next. Both C10s and C11s loaded into the Institute’s two big canoes and paddled around Diablo Lake, where Cohort 11 was handed what at first appeared to be the engraved paddle but turned out to be a standard wooden one with a note attached to the blade. This initiated a campus-wide scavenger hunt around the Environmental Learning Center for C11s, where at each stop they were greeted by graduates of past cohorts and asked to reflect on their experiences so far, share their hopes for the future, and offer appreciations for other members of their group. The adventure ended when C11s found Nick Mikula carrying a torch and clad in a nothing but a coyote-skin who led them to a campfire at the Deer Creek shelter. There they were greeted by Cohort 10 who offered some words of wisdom before all grads threw pieces of cedar into the fire in a final ceremony marking the closing of the “paddle” tradition.

Cohort 10 together again as they show off their certificates in Nonprofit Administration and Leadership. Photo courtesy of Jess Newley.

Cohort 10, we congratulate you on your achievements and commend all of your contributions to the field of environmental education during the past two years. You have been an inspiration to countless staff, program participants, and youth throughout the Pacific Northwest, and we hope that the knowledge and skills you have cultivated during your time at North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University will extend into all your future work. Wherever it is your journey takes you, may you continue to find landscapes of inspiration to wander through, marvel at, and explore.
 Leading photo courtesy of Nick Mikula.


  1. Stephanie Pate

    Yes, we’re all pretty awesome. Thanks for the Chattermarks shout! 🙂

  2. Dave W

    Congratulations to this rad and inspiring group of characters.

  3. Tanya Anderson

    Wonderful story about a beautiful and emotional celebration. Attending the ceremony was the highlight of my winter.

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