7 Months Later: An Alumni Perspective

The Lawn Before New Years

Welcome to 2015, Green Grounds-ers and readers of this blog. With plenty of new voices on this blog and a readership that continues to grow and inspire other organizations to blog about the sustainable happenings around UVa (:D From the Grounds Up), a slight introduction might be useful, if at all brief. Hi. I’m Alex, and I did a few sustainability things while at UVa before graduating this past May. I now find myself like some other sustaina-allstars (thank you kiddos for continuing my sustaina- meme) pursuing a PhD (or grad school) in our interests in sustainability while many others from our Sustainaclass of 2014 start down their career path (probably in some way connected to sustainability). More so than not, as I will discuss here in a second, we find ourselves applying the knowledge and skills we gained from the organizations we served in our undergrad lives almost as equally as the lessons we learned in our majors. Not only that, the choices we make, I would argue, definitely have a strong influence from the experiences we had in undergrad not so long ago (though really feels like an eternity).

Pride and Tradition

To say I am proud as an alumni to see all of the work not only in sustainability but in other areas this past semester, I don’t feel quite grasps the full meaning of what my class appreciates, or the leaders who came before us. Pride in one’s school, area, family, etc. can be a profound thing, but sometimes it can feel like it carries a connotation of an expectation of continuing tradition for continuance sake, whether or not in actuality that is the case. What I mean is, to see you find something you’re passionate in, whether it be an herb garden for an A School cafe, sharrows upon sharrows, or a bike share system (ok, that’s what I was in to), and find the resources of amazing staff and fellow students to help you take the next step (whether you see it happen before you graduate or not…) is something that all of us now out of school really love to see. When you have had the amazing and transformative experience of working in teams towards a goal that everyone is passionate about, you appreciate the effort everyone put in to make it happen. As alumni, although we might have our personal attachments to projects that we worked on and then resumed and told gigantic stories about to every interviewer we encountered, we don’t care if the project that we worked on and saw to some level of completion continues on in its same form if we see that the organizations we left are inspiring a whole new group of interested young thinkers to find what they are interested in and make it happen. That is not to say that tradition doesn’t have its place, (not at all) I mean how could you go through a week without a TJ quote? Not possible until you graduate. But in the context of tradition, annual events may appear to have the same structure and schedule to serve its purpose, but it is the creative execution of putting that together is all at the hands of students and awesome staff – both of which make UVa truly special- that finds new ways to push the envelope of community engagement. Lighting of the Lawn is a classic example of starting what became a new tradition in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. No doubt, I’m sure that LOTL 2014 served its purpose of bringing community togetherness, even more necessary in light of a very tough semester.

With this solidified point driven way across, at times seeing updates from your progress in things that you are interested in, makes me miss Grounds all the more. I’m ecstatic to see Bike Share installed and marching towards in-use (more than probably is healthy). I’m excited to see The Environmental Stewardship Subcommittee continue to grow and encompass more groups. I’m enamored to see the great work that the Climate Action Society has done in organizing large events and their involvement in strengthening the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition. It goes without saying that I’ve loved seeing the new voices on this blog and the projects Green Grounds has pushed forward. Throw in the Garden, the StudCo Sustainability Committee, GIFT, Bike UVa and others that my advanced age is blanking on (sorry 😦 ), and the state of sustainability is probably at its best point for now… and will only keep growing.

Cville Farmer’s Market December 20, 2014

Those 7 Months

But now outside of the comfy confines of the Lawn, upstairs at Boylan, or smooth jazz on Thursday night at Miller’s, friends from undergrad are geographically farther away. Conversations don’t happen every day anymore despite your first beliefs that they will. Weeks or months may go by before the crew you so solidly established is all together again. Heck, I scheduled a trip to Austin, TX in November for a weekend in February…) But I am here to tell ya, that’s okay. It’s. Okay. You may not realize but during the heat of this semester, with classes handing out exams every hour, every single project seems to be due on the same day, potlucks on top of convincing yourself that you are still “going out,” you have friends within a quarter mile of you that you won’t see for weeks despite every best intention. What I am saying is, it happens, and it’s a natural progression as you leave the Lawn or wherever you kids are having graduation these days to go pursue what it is you want to do. Also, make sure to grab cases of Bold Rock Cider before you leave the commonwealth of Virginia… (or other great things produced in VA) you miss what you can’t have easily, quickly, trust me. Even if you join the tens of thousands of wahoos in DC, NYC, or Seattle these days…, work life and new friends alter the picture. But despite all of this, when you do catch up with an old friend, months quickly become just days, and good friendships remain the best kind of ships. When you go to work, yeah I spend 3 days a week at a lab doing very work-y things, projects will separate leaders from just subject experts. You will be working with other people probably older than you and from a wide variety of different backgrounds. If you found a calling in the organizations that you have chosen to pour your free time into, those experiences who have had in working with administrators, younger students (acorns I believe as Climate Action Society calls ’em), and other peers will separate you from other people with your major. It doesn’t just make you look good (always good), but it gives you the confidence that right now is making you successful in your organization or class projects that will propel you to handle future projects that you may not be best equipped for.

Tour de Lights Knoxville, TN December 19, 2014

So what is this old man saying

Whether you are a first year, or a fourth year ready to join us old people on the outside, you may not know what is your true calling or what will be a profession and what will be a hobby. And you probably won’t. But as the semester builds on and your pie chart of sleep, school, party, and extracurriculars becomes more and more like a choose two, look at a project that you are involved with and take a second to look around who are you with, and ask yourself above all else, am I having fun? If you are enjoying the atmosphere in which you work, and the work in that you perform, that extra effort no longer seems quite as arduous. While I became a classic example of #teamnosleep during a time known as 4th year in which you could easily be out every night, the time I “lost” to a little less sleep (ok a lot less sleep), I look at now and appreciate what I was able to do as it is helping me now in my next stage, and I know that the same holds true for many of my peers. That extra effort to get another part for the Baja team done or another initiative in various organizations prepared me to take on new challenges in which I have little experience. But don’t think for a second that we became solely busy bodies to achieve these goals, balance is quite necessary, and good social interaction is essential to keeping those ships together. Like a football team that goes through the playoffs having suffered injuries throughout the whole squad through the regular season, you have been battle tested, in an many ways have a high level of self confidence that ultimately separates you from others towards achieving your ultimate goal. You may realize that your first job doesn’t turn out to be everything you thought it would be, but you will find ways to find a role to make it what you want to be or find connections to your next gig, be it a job, or maybe grad school now that you have an idea of what you may like to do.

We like to talk about more than the good ol’ days

But as I look back to sustainable progenitors of the era before, icons like Sheffield Hale, Sara Harper, Greta, Marina, Kasey, and countless others were always warm to seeing updates of the school and the sustainability movement they cared for so much. And much like them, while all of us are spread across the country, we tend to check in every now and then and see the progress that is going on. The true success of any movement is not just the momentum carried by a community of individuals devoted to the cause, but how the movement transitions to the next group of inspiring individuals to carry it forward. Sustainability at UVa started as a group of seedlings by different groups, including Green Grounds in 2004. With each generation of larger classes, new ideas, and amazing staff and faculty who bridge institutional knowledge that a turnover every 4 years can’t provide, these seedlings have grown into a small forest, with your branches bridging gaps and strengthening the overall ecosystem. Each generation faces its own challenges from our predecessors first beginnings to a large institutional culture of sustainability (with room to grow) that we see today. Your difficulties are no less important than previous challenges to start the momentum and the exciting thing is to see where you all take it. For “our legacy” is “your legacy,” how do you envision what UVa is and how it should perform? As the UVa community answers its own questions in the national spotlight from this past semester, these same questions are what guide any of us to answer our take on tradition and values. In the UVa spirit, keep pushing your peers, administrators, staff members, and all UVa employees to deliver the experience that you envision while delivering back to them a high level of engagement that enriches their own experience. To my friends outside of UVa, this same experience undoubtedly happens as well in your community, and I am sure that you would feel much in the same way as I do about my alma mater as you with yours. To my friends not associated with sustainability at UVa, many if not all these things I say here hold true with you too (Baja, Triathlon, Engineering Student Council, Student Council, Mech-E’s, URN).

Have a great start to the Spring semester, and I undoubtedly will talk to ya soon.

Go Hoos.



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