In 1980, I was in the process of finishing my freshman year at the University of Minnesota. I had been slated to spend the summer working at Glacier National Park. Two weeks before I was scheduled to leave, my father was diagnosed with leukemia and told he had six months to live. Right after he gave us the news, he looked at me and said, ‘And you’re still going to Glacier.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ He said, ‘Yes, you are. You need to go. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.’
It was that moment, the fact that he not only allowed me to go but insisted on it, that put me on a life-altering course.
First of all, I had never been away from home. Going out to Glacier was my opportunity to be on my own and be an actual adult. By going there, I developed a lifelong passion for the wilderness and made some of the most important friends I’ve ever had in my life. I spent three summers at Glacier and Grand Teton National Park, and those experiences shaped who I was as a person and ultimately as a civic leader.
After that first summer at Glacier, I was certainly more mature and had a broader perspective on life. It’s one of the reasons why I promote kids taking a gap year where they get out of their normal routine. My daughter, who just graduated from high school, is spending a gap year working at a school in Harlem for City Year [a community service organization]. I suspect that at least part of her sense of adventure came from somewhere in my experience. Just a year ago or so, I developed a program that’s sending inner-city kids to Glacier National Park.