The Ecology School Educator Alumna Selected as Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar

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Tess Beem (Fall 2013 + Spring 2014 TES Educator) was selected for the elite honor of serving as an attending Scholar at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Scholarship by Poland Spring the Aspen Ideas Festival is the nation's premier, public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discus sion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times. The Ecology School's generous supporter, Poland Spring/Nestle Waters North America is an underwriter of the Festival and invited us to nominate a Festival Scholar.

Written by Tess Beem

For those who were like me, I had never heard of the Aspen Ideas Festival, or the hosting organization, the Aspen Institute. I know the partner host, The Atlantic publication, well however, and so I ventured another glance at Alex Grindle's post while mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, as one does (I hope my employer isn't reading this). Here's what the post said: “Interested in attending the Aspen Ideas Festival?"

That was March 15th of this year. At 2:00am June 24th, I'm boarding a bus headed to the airport, to begin my first leg of travel to the Aspen Ideas Festival as a "Scholar." In between, there was a nomination and application process for a scholarship through Poland Spring. As with most application processes, it was fairly banal and one-dimensional. Eventually, enough time passes to push the prospect off the table of feasibility. It was a long shot anyway; no harm, no foul.

...Until you hear the good news! Then it's 2:00 a.m. and you're on a bus to Logan Airport.

Given the supremely early start time on day one, the mix of characters, ideas and settings I encountered at the Ideas Festival seemed almost out of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, or Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, than affluent Aspen. Whether it was the jet-lag, the 13-hour travel day, or the music festival like campus, either way, the effect was dizzying. At first I felt like a fraud, an imposter. Here were NPR correspondents, New York Times editors, and scholars galore. Like Carroll's Alice, I must have stumbled upon this opportunity through some misadventure.

As the conference moved forward, through day one and beyond, however, I was able to engage with those unlike myself - to challenge my thinking, reframe and re-energize around pushing meaningful work forward. With each discussion, each encounter, I became more grounded in my own work and less unmoored. The Aspen Ideas Festival, through individual workshops and as a sum of its whole parts, is a call to action for the civic minded - be that around governance, politics, social justice, environment, racial justice, living economies, you name it. So although I came in like Alice, I left clear headed and purposeful. More than anything, I'm grateful for the opportunity (that I think we all need and deserve) to bring my head out of the weeds of the day-to-day battle, to take the long view; to understand the intersections of our work; to engage with and be pushed by those outside our bubbles. Talk about “magic and mystery."

Learn more about Aspen Ideas Festival here:

Caitlin BrookeFOAM