by Jeremy Byler, ’03-’07
Speaking in Congress is new to me – in fact, I’m pretty sure it would be new to almost anybody – and I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I drafted my statement. Just how do you share all the magical and life changing experiences that you have had through SCA in a mere three-minute time block?
I recently had the opportunity to testify with SCA President Dale Penny before a joint Congressional subcommittee on “No Child Left Inside: Reconnecting Kids with the Outdoors.” I wanted the Representatives to feel the tangible difference SCA has made in my life, and, after talking with Rep. Grijalva afterwards, feel like I had some success.
It was quite an experience, discussing the issues with Dale and Flip Hagood [Sr. VP for Strategic Initiatives & Business Development], listening to and speaking in a Congressional hearing, and then being able to talk even more with different Representatives about my feelings – these things don’t typically happen for 18 year old high school students. SCA continues to amaze me with new opportunities and experiences, and I cannot wait to see what will come next!
Photo from left to right: Congressman Raul Grijalva (Tucson), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Jeremy Byler, Monikah Baltimore (SCA '05), and Dale Penny.
Below is the text of Jeremy’s testimony.
Testimony for the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans and the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest, and Public Lands of the Natural Resources Committee
May 24, 2007
My name is Jeremy Byler, I live in Washington, D.C. and am a senior at the School Without Walls Senior High School here in the District. I have been involved with the Student Conservation Association for four years and have been on two of the organization’s month-long summer crews – one in Yellowstone National Park and another in the White Mountains of Alaska.
In the four years that I have been involved with SCA, I have gone through considerable growth; the experience has opened my eyes to a world much larger than the D.C. metropolitan area.
I am a strong believer in the power of experiential learning and have many stories that have impacted my life. The one that sticks out most to me is my first Student Conservation Association summer crew to Yellowstone in 2004. Before this trip, I was an incredibly shy and timid person who was hesitant to talk in public or try anything new, but I came out of the experience as an outspoken and passionate advocate for conservation. The new experience of being away from family and familiar surroundings taught me a greater independence and has allowed me to finally begin speaking about my thoughts and passions instead of just holding them inside. The crew members become a supportive family of friends that encourages and teaches one another; learns from each other; and fosters growth and development in each of its members.
If not for this experience – designing and building bridges, camping 15 miles away from a dirt road, roughing it out in the wild for a month, and gaining confidence from a supportive crew – I would not psychologically be able to get up in front of a group of people – say, members of Congress – and speak my mind. Since returning from Yellowstone, I have become an avid public speaker. I have spoken at the Conservation Learning Summit among leaders in the National Park Service and other conservation organizations and I was on a panel at the DC Green Festival in 2006 discussing the importance of youth in conservation. Due to my experiences with the Student Conservation Association, I have grown as a leader and passionate advocate in the conservation field.
Strictly because of my involvement with SCA, I have now devoted my life to conservation. In fact, in the fall, I will begin pursuing a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Bucknell University.
As I continue to grow in this next stage of my life, I feel confident that the independence and the awe-inspiring wonder that I experienced through my summer crews will continue to act as catalysts for the journey. SCA sent me out and reconnected this kid with the outdoors, and I am forever changed because of it. I strongly wish this experience for any and every youth across the nation. Thank you.