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WGU Commencement Address from Helen Thayer
WGU Commencement Address from Helen Thayer
Western Governors University
<p>Helen Thayer addressed graduates at June 2018's WGU Bachelor's Commencement in Las Vegas, Nevada.</p> <p>Transcript of video:</p> <p>Helen Thayer: Well good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for the privilege of allowing me to speak here today. And graduates, congratulations. You made it. And I know that some of you -- many of you have had to overcome many difficulties and along, along this road to your -- your degree, but you made it. And now you can look ahead for future that will -- you'll benefit from what you have already achieved.</p> <p>And I'm sure as you traveled your journey, you probably learned a lot of life's lessons that you had not learned before. And for me, I, I began learning my life's lessons at a very young age. I come from New Zealand, where I was born and educated. And, uh, when I was nine years old, my parents finally, after a lot of pestering, allowed me to start climbing mountains with them. And one of our very close friends, a family friend, was Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to summit Mount Everest. </p> <p>And my parents told me, "Well, you can start climbing with us." It was to be Mount Teranaki in the center of the North Island of New Zealand, eight and a half thousand feet high, but it was in the wintertime. And they told me, "But you've got to carry your own pack. Nobody else is gonna carry it for you." And I came from a household that was quite strict on rules. So I knew that would be that. And so as you can imagine, halfway up that mountain, my legs -- my nine-year-old legs turned to lead. I was so tired I could hardly stand. I thought I could not take another step, but my father kept saying, "You don't have to climb this mountain in one long step. Just one step at a time will do it."</p> <p>My mother kept saying, "Now look, don't look backward. Look forward. Look at that summit. Visualize yourself standing on that summit. Visualize yourself as being successful. You can do it. Know that you can do it. See that picture. Keep that picture in your mind." And finally I did stand on that summit. And that nine-year-old little girl felt as though she was the most important person in the entire world at that time. But I'd made it.</p> <p>And those were two lessons that have carr-- carried me through all the way through my education and my, my exploration, and various sports. And then, as, as -- of course of -- then I continued to climb mountains, I learned more and more as Sir Edmund Hillary became my teacher and I learned a lot of technical climbing techniques. And then I decided that I would, um, enter the sport of -- well, after having competed in many other sports, I actually represented three countries in track and field. And New Zealand, the country of my birth, Guatemala, where my future husband was a helicopter pilot, and then, of course, United States once I became a citizen. I also won a world championship in kayaking and skiing. </p> <p>But one day I had an idea that I would like to participate in the sport of luge. Now don't like to talk too much about my, my career as a luger, because it does put the stamp of insanity on my lifestyle. But it fascinated me. And I thought now I would just love to win that national championship. What an accomplishment that would be in that difficult sport. But I knew it would be a difficult road, because I would have to go -- I gave myself two years, and I knew that I'd have to compete against people who're very, very talented. Very good at this. </p> <p>And so I'd learned beforehand now along my road through climbing mountains and sports that a goal without a plan is simply a dream. So I knew I had to simply sit down and plan this one out. So I planned the new two years in minute detail. I knew what I had to do if I was -- ever had a chance of winning this championship. Well, I, I continued on according to my plan. And yes, it was basically one step at a time. But in reality it was really one crash after the other and try to forget the last crash and go on to the next one.</p> <p>And two years later still in one piece, I finally won that championship. And it, it was a great lesson to me in perseverance. [Applause] Thank you. But then as I, of course, mountain climbing was my -- was really my first love. So I continued climbing mountains. Uh, attacking more technical routes as I did. And then I climbed Mount Denali in Alaska. My first mountain over 20,000 feet. After that I went overseas and climbed mountains around the world. But this was actually my first love was mountain climbing. I just really loved the high altitude and just looking out there and that beautiful pristine air.</p> <p>And of course I live -- I live in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. And this is where I was training for all of these endeavors of sports, and the, and the mountain climbing. Then one day I decided that, you know I've got all these lifetime experiences. The things that I have learned. The saving of goals. The planning for success, one step at a time. Always visualizing myself as being successful. Never looking back Always looking forward. And I thought, "I need to give -- I need to send this message." Get this message in my lifestyle. I need to share it with students K through 12." In, in a program I called Adventure Classroom.</p> <p>And up -- to date, I've spoken to over a million children, students K through 12, uh, in schools actually in, in schools since 1988. And it's been a very rewarding journey that I've taken. And this is of course is what I intend doing for the rest of my life.</p> <p>But then I decided what, what should be the first program for the Adventure Classroom? So I decided to ski alone to the magnetic North Pole. And of course I knew that this would be a challenge. I, I really needed to plan on this one, because there was no equipment available. I was really a pioneer of sorts. </p> <p>And so as I tr-, and I bought an Inuit dog who'd been trained to keep polar bears out of the village. Keep the humans safe, because there're a large amount of polar bears along my route. And so, so, the, the plan was there. The goal was there. I knew what I needed to do. But I found that people were so negative. People would say to me, "Oh, you're, you're not gonna make this. The polar bears are gonna hunt you down and they'll kill you. They'll eat you."</p> <p>And then they would tell me, "Well, you'll go -- you'll fall through the thin ice into the Arctic Ocean and you'll drown." And the one that really got me was, "Well you're a woman and you're going alone. You can't do that." And I thought, "Well, why not?" Well, first of all I know -- 50 years old. I know I'm a woman. And yes, I can do this alone. [Laughter] There's no mystery here.</p> <p>And so I, I set out. My family, of course, were very supportive. I set out with my dog, Charlie. I called him Charlie. He walked at my side to protect me from bears. And of course seven polar bear up close encounters later, storms, and, uh, yes, I did have to walk across some very thin ice, but finally Charlie and I made it to the pole. I was unresupplied and unsupported. I'd reached my goal. The first program for Adventure Classroom. [Applause] Thank you.</p> <p>And then -- and then of course, um, my husband was a helicopter pilot. He retired from flying so he could join me in my work for Adventure Classroom, because we were both passionate about what we were doing. Just, just getting these messages into the kids in the schools via my, my expeditions. </p> <p>So we decided to take on the Sahara. So we traveled. We actually walked 4,000 miles through seven countries from Morocco to the Nile River. And this was indeed a very difficult journey. Our camels carried our gear and our water. And at one point, we were kidnapped. At another point, we were stood up to be executed. Another time we walked through 600 miles of minefields. We were robbed twice. But seven and a half months later, we made it, because through all the trials and tribulations, we knew that we could do it. We knew that we would one day reach the banks of the Nile River. If we could just put one foot in front of the other. And we kept seeing that picture in our minds of the Nile and we will be there.</p> <p>We told each other this. "What's it gonna be -- " we talked about the Nile River. We just -- we urged ourselves on mentally even though some days we -- we were so exhausted we were putting in 18-hour days. And so finally we did reach the Nile River. And it was a tremendous victory for us after all those months. We looked like a couple of scarecrows, but we had made it.</p> <p>And then we decided to bring the rainforest of the world into the classroom. So after the Amazon, we went and we kayaked 2,000 miles in the Amazon. And as in all expectations, there's always some trial and tribulation to be overcome. And at one point, we were attacked by a swarm of killer bees. And this is not a fun -- not a fun thing to happen to you. It is very bad. We were absolutely swarming with these bees. We were being stung. And we've, we've learned that to deal with the problem of the moment, don't deal with the problems that might -- might eventuate. Might never happen. The only way to get rid of the bees was to dive into the water. This is where the piranha live. So but of course we'll just have to -- we figure the piranha are gonna have to wait until later. We've got to deal with the bees first. [Laughter] </p> <p>So into the water we went. We -- scraping these bees off. Finally we got them off. We have our epi pens ready, because we really needed it by this time. Back into our kayaks. We're able to get ourselves out to actually -- we're in pretty bad shape. We had to help each other, but the crisis was over. And the piranha didn't find us. So the piranha were good neighbors, at least at that time anyway. But of course the Amazon is fascinating. We were able to bring so much information into the classroom.</p> <p>And then I decided that, um, I needed to continue of course the expeditions and I will do for the rest of my life. And last November to celebrate my 80th birthday, I decided I would walk the entire length of Death Valley from the extreme north to the extreme south. I would do it alone and I would haul all my gear and my water on a cart behind me, because there is no water in Death Valley. So I had to plan. Now talk about planning. The goal -- remember I told you. A goal without a plan is only a dream. I knew this one -- I really had to plan this one. How'm I gonna get all this water? I only weigh 125 pounds. I had a -- I was pulling a cart starting weight of 185. So that I means I really had to train hard. I really had to be prepared for this. </p> <p>So then I set off. And about the se-, in the middle of the journey my, my day food went bad on me and I, I was suffering from food poisoning. I had a temperature of 104 degrees. A ranger found me. He said, "You look like death." I thought, "Well thank you for the compliment. You're not too encouraging." But he said, "I need to take you to the hospital." I said, "Oh, no, no, no. I know I can fight my way through this." Because I knew if I quit, I might not restart. But I knew if kept putting one foot in front of the other and keep thinking about my -- the end result, I knew I could fight my way through this temperature. And finally after four days, what I did was just aim for a place about 100 yards ahead of me. Then I'd get there. Then I'd go another 100. And another 100. And another 100. </p> <p>I kept going. And I knew I could do this. Then finally by Day 6, the, the problem was gone. I was well again. I was able to pick up the march and keep going. And finally I did arrive at the end of Death Valley. And so now next year, I'm going back again. [Applause] Thank you.</p> <p>And I, I discovered in my work in the schools that children don't know very much about the national parks in this country, which I think is somewhat appalling because they're such beautiful treasures. So I have decided that I will walk the length of every national park in the United States and I will take the information into the classroom and you will learn about your national parks, whether you like it or not. You will learn, because I'm gonna go there. And I will bring it to you. And so those are my future plans. And so Adventure Classroom, I continue on and keep on going.</p> <p>But, but I, I know that you have set your goals and you -- you've made your plans. And now, you can look ahead at your life and think about the, the, the, the, uh, goals that you want to set in your future. Your education's gonna make a big difference. Now you can go ahead. You know that you've reached this very important goal in your life and you can go ahead and you can inspire others to do the same that you have one. That you can always -- you can always teach other people, "This is what I did. You, too, can do it." Because we're all very special. Every single one of us are special. We're all the same way. We are special. We have special gifts. We have special talents. We just have to find those talents, go after them, and always think of success. Look ahead. Never look back. Well thank you very much for listening to my story. [Applause] Thank you.</p>
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