by Tegan Wenland, YIHS Class of 2004

I came to YIHS as a sophomore – confused, lost and looking for escape in unhealthy places. I found community, support, and family. I found mentors who told me I could be a successful leader, a bright student, and a productive member of society. They told me to go to college, which I did, reluctantly.

Looking back, I can’t imagine being as patient as my mentors were with me – Dawn Hundt, Lars Bergan, Jane Siemon – and all of the countless families who took me in and held me up – the Dowats, the Hundts, Mary Bard, the Hughes, the Banners – I can’t even list them all. I was prickly, I was angry, and I was resistant.

But being part of the YIHS family broke me down, softened me. I learned to paint with oil pastels and how to develop my own film. I learned how to act in a play, and how to organize a coffee house. I almost learned my multiplication tables.

But mostly, and I don’t care if this sounds corny, I learned how to love. How to love without caveats, with the intention of lifting others up, without wanting.

Today, I work as an environmental reporter and editor at the NPR station in New Orleans. You may not think such work necessitates a lot of exertion of love, but it does. Not only do I have to get along with a boss, I frequently find myself interviewing people on the worst day of their lives. When their homes have been flooded out, the land they call home is being washed away, their livelihoods are under threat, and they’re powerless.

It’s my job to tell their stories, and to weave a narrative that contextualizes them in a broader context – an epic story of humans’ folly and manipulation of nature, of the seemingly unstoppable force of climate change. It’s my job to open my heart and not just stick a microphone in their face. It’s my job to make their trauma matter. It’s also my job to explore solutions, to face this daunting challenge with an open mind, and try to open others, as well.

I understand the rule of three when I shoot a photo of a Native American woman teaching young people a long-lost basket weaving technique, and I remember to record the sound of the water when I interview a low-income family facing constant flooding and impending relocation. But mostly, I know how to listen, and how to share back, not just cannibalize their stories for the never-ending news cycle. This makes me an unusual specimen of a news reporter. I think it helps me do my job better, and hopefully, to affect positive change. I find the hardest part of being a YIHS graduate is that not everyone else is. 

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