There’s a theme here. It’s not new, but, given the year and half we just lived through, it’s pretty remarkable.
I had the privilege of attending two Outward Bound graduations in the last two weeks. Every Outward Bound expedition closes with a ceremony to reflect on and celebrate learning, leadership and growth. Students and instructors tell stories of transformation and acknowledge the challenges they embraced and discoveries they made– together.
VOBS has a vital partnership with a youth-serving college preparation program called Upward Bound. “UB” is a legislated, inclusive and ubiquitous program for American high school students. All UB programs are affiliated with colleges or universities, and they provide three years of intensive programming to help high school students get ready for college. UB and Outward Bound are both grounded in the principle of potential. We all have more in us than we know, and if we can see and exercise our potential, and that of others, then we can lead our lives with compassion and resilience. VOBS has a number of UB partnerships, two of which sent students into the field with VOBS this summer– Upward Bound University of Minnesota and Upward Bound Dakota County Technical College.
I met 35 Upward Bound students in the last two weeks, and every single student used the word “together” at some point during their Outward Bound graduation ceremonies.
After a year and a half of doing things alone, separately, at a distance, “by myself,” “on my own,” or “without anyone,” these Upward Bound students did something important, together: six days of adventure, challenge, discovery and transformation on Minnesota water and in Minnesota woods.
I’ve attended a lot of Outward Bound graduations. During the graduation, in one way or another, students are invited to answer a question: “What are you proud of?”
What will you remember?
What did you accomplish?
What did you learn?
What does this experience mean to you?
And this summer, every single student spoke in the collective and cited shared accomplishments. Individual achievement and learning took a distant back seat to togetherness.
I am proud of what we did…
I can’t believe what we accomplished…
You all mean so much to me…
Clearly, the most important thing to these students is that they were together.
As we walked away from graduation at the Sand Rock Cliffs campsite, Tricia Wilkinson, Upward Bound U of M Director, turned to me:
We say Outward Bound students grow “belonging, strength and purpose,” but sometimes it is belonging that matters most, and belonging that gives young people strength, and purpose.
For the first time in a long time, I feel a real sense of hope for our shared future. Compassion and resilience are alive and well here in the Twin Cities.
I hope you too find belonging, strength, purpose… and hope in the instructor and student reflections shared below.
A Graduation Reflection
We met on a sunny day on the Namekagon, where we did some strange handshakes and got to know each other.
We began this journey much like we’re ending it– in a circle.
We stepped in and out of various circles, and discovered what made us comfortable… and uncomfortable.
We shared hopes and fears for this course.
We took our maiden voyage as a group on the Namekagon.
We zigzagged and swerved, bumper-boated and did full 360’s.
We only capsized once… at shore!
We learned how we wanted to live with one another on this trip.
We each stepped into leadership roles and further developed our character through challenge and discovery.
We made it through the rapids!
We paddled 50 miles in just four days.
We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, and created a safe space for everyone.
We got to know the Namekagon and St. Croix rivers.
We said, “Hello” to wildlife, and stars and floated on the water.
We discovered that “fine dining” can occur just about anywhere.
We found out that “old, tik tok-less” people can actually dance.
We made it from training, to main, to final, and finally, to graduation.
We learned. We learned to ask for help. We learned to try new things, and we learned, “we’ve got this!”
We know that “a ship is safe in harbor” and we know “that’s not what ships were built for”
Kaia, VOBS Instructor
“The first skill that I learned on the trip was teamwork. It is comforting to know that there is someone else [who] is also experiencing the same thing as me, since everyone in the group never camp[ed] before. We quickly developed teamwork to make this experience fun for everyone. When someone [was] struggling, everyone worked together to make them feel better. We also quickly realized this activity is not something that can be done without the help of your friends. We also had to be self-aware. Not everyone is gonna have the same reaction as you to nature. Some people might take longer to adjust and open up to the group too. And [for] that type of situation, the only solution is to have patience, and be ready when that person is [ready] to open up to you. Once that happens, it will be smooth sailing. Also, I really appreciate how the mentors were aware that this was all the first time for us camping, and they were really patient. They gave us a lot of time and provided support [until] we were ready.”
Meron, VOBS Alum
“In the end, we learned really good teamwork. We learned how to work together, which made everything way easier. Teamwork made it easier to persevere through everything. One time, we really showed perseverance when the boat tipped. Even though the boat tipped and people were shaken up, we got together and then pushed through the rest of the rapids. Overall, we got really close and our teamwork got really strong. I learned that it is easier to do things when you have people helping you out, and not just one person doing everything for the whole group.”
Ayla, VOBS Alum
There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others.George Shinn
“I grew my teamwork skills from the beginning of the trip. I stopped myself from being a little shy and started meeting my group members. At the beginning of the trip, I didn’t know anyone, and I [didn’t say] anything. I came to realize that I need to put myself out there and meet new people because I love meeting new people and getting to learn more about them and their cultures. It’s just that sometimes I get shy and get to the point where I can’t do anything. Some specific experiences helped me develop teamwork skills like honesty, friendliness, communication and emotional control. What I learned about myself from my experience on the canoe expedition was never feel lonely when you see people that you have never talked to. Just feel free to walk up to them and start asking them some questions so that you can be friends. I was so scared to walk up to Ayla and ask her to be my canoeing partner on our second day. I do feel more confident in my ability to be successful next year, and after high school, because my group members [were] so good at teamwork and we did not give up. They were always positive and tried not to think negative. Also, we never blamed one another for team mistakes and failures. We always worked together and got things done fast because of our great teamwork.”
Jamila, VOBS Alum
It always seems impossible until it’s done.Nelson Mandela
Congratulations to these new VOBS alums! Thank you for sharing your reflections and wisdom with us. We are humbled to partner with you.
Here’s to your next adventure! You are truly Outward Bound!