Graduation, Gratitude, and Getting to the Trail

This weekend I finally celebrated my graduation from Penn State University.

I can’t believe it’s finally over and a new chapter is beginning. I’m thankful for all of the incredible experiences I’ve had at Penn State over the last however-many years, particularly those after discovering my love for the outdoors. I was privileged enough to not only study outdoor recreation for the last two years, but also to pursue it wholeheartedly in my free time.

Two years ago I was an aspiring backpacker with a little bit of hiking experience under my belt. Since then I’ve hiked many hundreds of miles throughout the country, summited big mountains, attempted a thru-hike, led many trips, spent a summer in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and guided the Penn State Outing Club through tough times after it was shut down by the university last spring.

I’m so proud to finally have degree in hand and so grateful for all of the people who got me here. I couldn’t even begin to reflect here on everything I’ve learned in my time in Central PA, both in and out of the classroom and in and out of college itself.

For a long time I felt lost and unsure of what I wanted in life, but I feel like I’ve found it. I finally feel certain of my path forward. Today I will step foot onto the Appalachian Trail to begin a five-month journey, and I could not be more stoked.

Today I begin my hike, my graduation gift to myself as well as my way of celebrating the life of my dear friend Devon, who passed away from a fentanyl overdose a week before I returned to school to study outdoor rec with the intention of working in wilderness therapy. For me, finding my place in the woods was finding a way to finally successfully cope with depression. Unfortunately, Devon’s method of coping with similar struggles was drugs. I’m trying to raise $10,000 for opioid prevention in his honor through my hike. I’m incredibly grateful for my friends and family (along with some kind strangers) who have helped my already achieve 34% of my goal!

 

After a weekend of tearful goodbyes, caving, mohawk creation and debauchery, I hopped in my friend’s car for a nine-hour ride to Asheville, NC. Stayed in town with my friend Nick last night, and now I’m sitting in the Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs, NC (mile 273) typing this on my phone. It’s wild that this day I’ve been dreaming of for so long is finally here! My plan is that I’ll be flipping, hiking ~1,900 miles north and returning to the Smokies after finishing up in Maine. (Unfortunately, graduation took priority when choosing a start date)

 

Stepping forward into the next chapter of my life in the most fantastic way I could imagine. Let’s goooo.

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Comments 1

  • Kelly Graner : May 7th

    YO! I also just graduated from Penn State May 5th, I’ll be hitting the AT May 12th! So wild that we have that in common, happy trails dude. Maybe I’ll see you out there!

    Kelly

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