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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Caribbean Reef Sharks and a Road Trip Across the Southwest

< swath of Carleton Fellowship deadlines rapidly approaching, you might be asking yourself, “Which should I apply for?” With so many options, which fellowship comes with the fewest strings attached? Last year, alums Peter Ross ’80, Danal Abrams ’80, Jeff Appelquist ’80 and John Youngblood ’81, established the Four Friends Fellowship through a grant to the college.

They wanted to thank Carleton “for all the experiences they had together since meeting” here. The fellowship “will be awarded annually to that group of two or more Carleton students proposing the most compelling experience.” With $4000 dollars to do what you please, where would your imagination take you?

Seniors Grace Zahrah ’14 and Ellie Schmidt ’14 took a road trip across the American Southwest, while Seniors Marcus Rider ’14 and Jonathan Kagan-Kans ’14 swam with sharks in the Bahamas. Two sets of friends were selected in 2013, “four friends” total.

When recounting the experience of being selected, Marcus remembers getting a call from Jonathan. “He never calls just to say hi. I picked up the phone, and he said, “‘guess what I just got in my mailbox?!’” The two were awarded $3500 dollars, which helped them get to Nassau, the Bahamas, complete a scuba certification course, swim with sharks, and paid for food and lodging for seven days.

Zahrah and Schmidt used their funds, totaling $3700 dollars, to rent a car, pay for gas, food and some shopping, during their three-week multi-state trip that began in Colorado and ended in Los Angeles.  They stayed for one or two nights at each of their stops, which included: Sedona, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Where did they stay, you may ask?

“We couch surfed the entire time, which was the best part of the whole thing,” said Zahrah. “Couch surfing was a really easy way to meet people.” When I probed as to why it was so great, Grace said that, “we had the ability to meet people as caricatures of themselves. We saw great aspects of each of them. We could walk away and say Evan was so kind-hearted, but you never had to learn the complexities of him. We got to meet the best version of those people and they met the best version of ourselves.”

As part of their fellowship, the two collected stories and filmed portions of their trip sporadically, to make a movie documenting the experience. “The film is supposed to be a final collaboration art piece, like a last hurrah in college.”  Schmidt shared that “the film is just for us,” something to look back on years later.

While Schmidt and Zahrah’s film project is personal, Rider and Kagan-Kans hope to reach a broader audience with their short film. After looking more deeply into the state of shark populations around the world, the two discovered some troubling facts.

Rider shared that at “first we thought, ‘Let’s go scuba diving with sharks,’ but then we looked into shark conservation and realized they are in a terrible spot and need help.

They are crucial to the oceanic ecosystem and after finding that out, we were much more impassioned.” With 90% of all sharks having disappeared, their goal shifted from simply swimming with sharks to creating something tangible, which took the form of a video with original footage, advocating for their protection and conservation.

On the experience itself, Rider and Kagan-Kans had much to say. Rider shared, “we dove with anywhere from six to twelve sharks at a time. I realized these animals are just like any other. They’re curious and want to see who you are.”

“From now on,” said Rider, “I will always think of them as big, misunderstood puppies.” On their night dive, Jonathan shared, “it was the coolest thing we did by far, like being in space. We saw turtles, eels, and swam out to a shipwreck in one of the Bond movies.”

“We got to do something fun and adventurous with some greater meaning,” stated Rider. “This experience was a great time to think, relax, and ponder, which definitely helped put in perspective what we’ve done at Carleton.”

With many stories and a unique experience to boot, the “Four Friends” would be proud of the impact their grant has already had on the lives of four current students.


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