On Wednesday, April 28, Gunston students and faculty celebrated Earth Day (rescheduled from last week due to adverse weather conditions). The day began with a presentation from keynote speaker (and Gunston’s assistant girls’ lacrosse coach) Imani Black. Ms. Black is the founder of Minorities in Aquaculture (M.I.A), an organization that promotes the benefits and sustainability of aquaculture, both in the Chesapeake Bay and worldwide, and works to educate and encourage minorities to pursue careers in all aspects of aquaculture.
Ms. Black told her story of wanting to escape the small town she grew up in (nearby Chestertown), her difficulties navigating college life as a division one student athlete with a heavy class load, with anxiety and depression and self doubt, and the story of how she ultimately discovered and then realized her dreams, despite constant discouragement and setbacks. During her time at Old Dominion University, she was advised to switch to a communications major, and “take a job as a movie theater manager.”
“I was crushed,” she recalled. Despite the bad advice, she continued on with her studies and graduated with a degree in marine biology. After securing an internship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, she fell in love with aquaculture.
“There is an overwhelming calm about being out on the water,” she explains.
In her first job after college, she was not being paid enough to financially support herself and had to move home. She applied for her dream job of lead hatchery technician on Hooper’s Island and was hired. “And then came what I like to call ‘2020: the year of redirection.’ I was fired from my dream job and I really began to examine how being the only Black person in my various spaces had really affected me. How did you get here? What happened? I wrote down every hurtful thing that had ever been said to me, and then I asked myself which ones are true? And by the end, I had this list of all these things that people said I’d never accomplish, but I did. I also took an inventory of all the mistakes and failures and once I took ownership of them, I felt empowered to move on.”
She continued, “That girl who left a small town, who was never going to graduate college, who should have majored in communications, who didn’t belong where she was headed, the one that should have been a movie theater manager [...] when I look at my photo now, on the cover of Aquaculture, North America, I don’t see that 17 year old girl anymore. I see more than my setbacks, my previous immaturity, the times I let people down, and I say ‘I didn’t need to be perfect, I never needed to be, I just needed to be myself.’”
When asked what is one thing students can do to help encourage sustainability, “Make sure the seafood you’re eating is sustainably raised and/or caught. Know where your food is coming from and support the aquaculture industry,” she advised.
After the keynote address, students participated in workshops on Gunston’s campus in art and music, took turns helping with trail clean-ups, recycling, garden projects, and more. The day also included canoeing, sailing, and fly fishing, ending with a “Photo Safari”campus-wide scavenger hunt.
The winning team was “JEKZ” (Josh Campbell ’22, Ethan Nuessle ’21, Kallena Kemp ’22, and Zack Anderson ’21) with the “Super Swag Seniors” (Kylee Rushton, Max Brady, Marion Riddle, Olivia Hershey, Emma McClary, Bella Adams, Reagan Gessford, Kayla Flood, and Hannah Beckman) as the runner up.
“Gunston’s annual Earth Day offers us the opportunity to live our mission to the fullest, amplifying our connection to the Chesapeake Bay and learning to become environmental stewards” said Emily Beck, director of environmental programs. “The day builds off of the authentic integration of sustainability in our classes and allows our student leaders to shine in presenting the action-packed day for their peers.”
“The Gunston School has a long history of not only encouraging, but requiring all students to take environmental, sustainability, and climate science courses in order to graduate,” adds Head of School John Lewis. “We’re not just preparing students for a future crisis, but a crisis that is occurring as we speak.”
The school’s signature Chesapeake Bay Studies Program, now in its 26th year, is held annually in May. Additionally, the Chesapeake Watershed Semester (open to any 11th or 12th grade student within commuting distance) is back after a hiatus in 2020, and taking applications for spring 2022.
“Our annual Earth Day celebration, specialized environmental curriculum, the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Watershed Semester—it’s all a part of our strategic goal to expand our capacity as a regional and national leader in environmental teaching and learning,” explains Mr. Lewis.