I think I had an unshakable grin on my face the entire presentation. It was impossible to not be moved, proud, and content to watch and listen to my JIRP family talk about their hard work and passions. I looked upon the face of each person I had lived with, learned from, worked through challenges with, and come to respect and appreciate to the utmost extent. As I sat in the audience, I reveled in the fact that I could count myself in this group of remarkable, eclectic people. The atmosphere was loose and it was obvious that JIRPers (and the audience) were having fun recounting the summer’s activities. And then it was over…I distinctly remember boarding the bus and Prince’s “1999” was playing on the radio—in some sense, the perfect song—upbeat and celebratory, but the lyrics tell a slightly darker story about endings, about running out of time.
“Sleep is for the weak” was the unofficial motto from there on out! With just hours left (shout out to the 4 am departure crew!), we attempted to bring some sort of closure to a two-month, perspective-altering ordeal. Ha. Good luck! JIRP awards, a final video, and a well-written rap closed out the evening as people drifted about saying goodbyes and trying to maximize every minute left.
No more mass balance pits. No more sunset skis. No more tan line contests. No more wet socks and sun-screened faces. No more Pilot Bread with peanut butter and brown sugar. No more glacier dragons. No more “Science!” No more icefield. And just one traverse left: the traverse without a trail party, the traverse no one tells you about—the hardest traverse of all.
Somehow two months had passed, and this bizarre, beautiful social experiment (“Hey, let’s throw 30+ complete strangers together and have them live in confined spaces in the middle of an icefield under less than ideal conditions!”) was at an end. Through quietly irrepressible tears that surprised this normally reserved author as the plane took off from Juneau, I was left with a singular line of questioning: How? How does this social experiment succeed? What is the “secret” of JIRP’s transformative power in the lives of generations of young, aspiring scientists? How?
The largest part of the answer involves the development of the program under Dr. Miller and his wife, Joan—I am convinced. Their life’s work and legacy live on not only in the incredibly valuable scientific record JIRP produces, but also in the alumni and people who return year after year because it is such a transformative program. The second part of the answer is the students. The experience succeeds because JIRP assembles a group of diverse individuals from all corners of the U.S. and beyond. Despite our individuality, I thought about the common core values we necessarily share, and I’d like to describe some of them briefly.
We are dreamers. We dream of a healthier planet—one in which our own human footprint is reduced. We dream of graduate school, of careers in engineering, environmental science, geology, and the list goes on. We dream of lives lived close to and in harmony with nature. Lives lived deliberately, surrounded by people we care about. We are dreaming.
We are seekers. A never-ending thirst for knowledge drives us forward. Always searching for new ways to examine our beliefs, change our perspectives, and expand our horizons. We aim to learn from each person we meet. We seek out and celebrate their best qualities. We are seeking.
We are explorers. Testing our physical limits, pushing the bounds of our comfort zone, we never stop moving and never settle. Every new corner must be rounded, for we know that around each bend lies a new adventure, a new way to reinvent and reimagine ourselves and the world we live in. We are exploring.
And finally, we are free spirits. Each JIRPer brought a unique addition to the summer. Artists, musicians, writers, singers, dancers, athletes, thinkers, and outdoorsmen (and women!) abound. We are compassionate characters, possessing a delicate sensitivity coupled with extremely tough mental faculties and willpower. We are soaring.