Amanda Wheelock ’09 never imagined working in land conservation or wanting to pursue further studies in environmental science and public land management. But she attributes much of her passion for the outdoors to the experiences she had with the outdoor program at GPS. “In eighth grade, on my first ever backpacking trip, we were cowboy camping under the stars in the fall, and the colors were changing. It was incredible,” Wheelock says. “I also took a kayaking trip in ninth grade that was my first multi-day river trip. I started doing all of these things at GPS.” While Wheelock fondly recalls her outdoor experiences with the school, she wasn’t completely defined by them. A rower, Key Club member, and Model UN participant, she says the cocurricular activities added to her GPS education. Today in her work in marketing and communications for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition in Golden, Colorado, Wheelock says she is grateful for her early exposure to the great outdoors. “I don’t remember much that happened in eighth grade, but I distinctly remember the feeling of my first backpacking trip and being outside,” Wheelock says. “There are so many people in the United States who own the same public lands I do and don’t get to experience them.” Since college Wheelock has been working to change that perception and bring more awareness about the outdoors to the public. “Every American has joint ownership in these publics lands. I want to help them experience it, to get away from their regular lives and unplug,” Wheelock says. “Being outside is one of the few times we have to really disconnect and be ourselves.” Coming Out of Her Shell Before coming to GPS, Wheelock wasn’t challenged academically. She was bullied by classmates, and her mother decided to send her to a school that would more fully support her academically, socially, and emotionally. The transformation was dramatic. “I was happier than I had ever been while attending GPS,” she says. “It’s cool to be smart, and you can be who you truly are. Anyone who has ever met me would notice I’m incredibly extroverted and outspoken—two of my most defining qualities. Had I not gone to GPS, I wouldn’t have been those things. I would have tried to not get noticed.” She felt the difference in college at Dartmouth, too, where she was surrounded by other smart students who were just discovering themselves and their identities. Wheelock graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth, where her love of the outdoors was again sparked by the New Hampshire college’s connection to the Appalachian Trail. In addition to her work with the Continental Divide, she’s looking forward to pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science and public lands management. “I spent seven years learning about myself before college and exploring different aspects of my identity,” she says. “I knew who I was. I was outspoken. I never hesitated to speak up in class because it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t talk and share my opinions. Because of GPS, I got to be whoever I wanted to be. I had friends who cared about me and wanted to engage with me on deep topics like religion and philosophy. GPS made me who I am.”
Unconditional Support of Her Opinions
Wheelock applauds GPS for encouraging a diversity of opinions. She was both supported and challenged by her teachers—and with critical thinking to back up her decisions, she felt supported and empowered by the faculty and staff.
“I didn’t participate in May Day because I felt like it was prioritized over graduation. While the celebration of us as young women was not invalid, I didn’t feel it should be more important than our academic achievements,” Wheelock says. “But that didn’t stop me from also supporting my best friend, Rachel Smith, who was May Queen. I love that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I was empowered to think critically about my opinions and back it up. GPS showed me that humans can be complicated—and I could be both proud of my friend as May Queen and also stand up for what I believed. It is such a special place.”