I was raised to believe I could make a difference, that I could use my talents to help create a better world. According to my parents, the key was a strong, balanced education. Math and English. Science and Art. History and Physical Education.
They were right.
When I graduated from East Lansing High School, I was going to follow my great passion for writing and become a famous author. I turned my back on that dream after experiencing life without money, after standing alongside a road in South Africa. Hot, sweaty, covered in dust, I had no choice but to sneak into the plush motel before me and steal drinking water. Poor, without access to clean water, I had to steal water to survive.
When I returned to Michigan State University to finish my undergraduate degree, I switched my major from English to Business, determined to never again be poor. After earning an MBA, I spent the next twenty-four years working my way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming a President for Baxter Healthcare. Reporting to the Chairman and CEO of this Fortune 500 company, I was responsible for bridging relationships between the executives of the top hospitals and healthcare systems in the country with those of Baxter.
My East Lansing education, from kindergarten through the Master’s program, helped me compete and succeed in a world of science and numbers. It also gave me the language skills and the confidence to converse effectively with some of the world’s top leaders.
One day, sailing our boat on Lake Michigan after heavy spring rains, I saw the murky-brown, sewage-laced waters of the Grand River flowing into a lake I have loved since childhood. Spilling out of a crevice in my mind was the long-buried memory of a twenty-two-year-old woman standing on the side of a road, willing to risk everything for a drink of water.
At that moment, I knew I was meant to be doing something different with my life.
Replacing my briefcase and business suit with a notepad and foul weather gear, I journeyed into uncharted waters to help create the political will necessary to clean up and protect these magnificent Great Lakes. For while we can live without a lot of things, access to clean, safe drinking water is not one of them.
A recent recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Honor Roll Award from the East Lansing Educational Foundation, I was recognized by Governor Rick Snyder for fighting for “the freshwater that makes our state so unique” and demonstrating “the difference that committed individuals can make . . .”
I am honored and humbled by the recognition. But the credit goes to my parents, mentors, teachers, principals, school board members—anyone who touched my education. My schooling, across that full spectrum of disciplines, provided me the foundation I needed to succeed in two very different worlds: as a Fortune 500 executive and now, as a published blogger, photographer, and author of this summer’s adventure-travel memoir, Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes.
To succeed in today’s environment, we need schools that provide a strong education across all disciplines. Math and English. Science and Art. History and Physical Education. I am grateful to have grown up in East Lansing, a community that prioritized education.
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