Back to School with YLC

This piece is part of a series of "Back-to-School" blogs penned by our Youth Leadership Council members. Each blog highlights a different way to bring a conservation-focused mindset to campus...and beyond.

Becky Shelton, YLC Member

There is a reason I dream of saving the ocean’s fish with a team of teenagers. During my junior year of high school, I was accepted into the Seattle Aquarium’s teen volunteer program, where I committed over 500 hours before leaving for college. Those 500 hours changed me.

When I joined the Seattle Aquarium in 2011 I was so quiet that it was hard to hear me on a windy day. But through countless conversations engaging with visitors, I left the program able to hold the attention of toddlers and adults while sea otters twirled beside me. While talking about the ocean, I was able to disown my innate introversion. My confidence did my passion for the ocean.

As the end of high school approached, thoughts of, “What next?” became louder, more pressing. Natural gravitation towards one subject over another provided me some insight into the answer, but my experiential learning outside the classroom (volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium) had a tremendous impact in guiding my college applications and eventually my career goals. The best part of it all is this: there is no hard deadline for taking action. Age aside, you can always make the choice to get involved. My advice to current, wandering high school students: find an extracurricular program you’re interested in and commit to it for a year. Education is not limited to the conventional classroom and it can take some time to realize your calling. I was, and still am, an aspiring marine biologist.

For the past two summers I have returned to the Seattle Aquarium as a Youth Engagement Mentor, working with students from the same high school volunteer program I once attended, to engage with visitors and inspire conservation of our marine environment. The teenage participants come to us with varying knowledge of marine biology, public speaking, and professional etiquette (customer service, accountability, etc.). This time through the program, through the eyes of a Youth Engagement Mentor, I’ve seen that inspiration in the teens. And that has been just as satisfying as having experienced it for myself.

The teen volunteers’ passion is infectious, as predictable as a chemical reaction:

Enthusiastic teen volunteer + Aquarium visitor → a priceless expression of amazement on the visitor’s face

I remember the feeling too; standing a little taller, smiling a little wider, hearing the sense of pride accentuating my voice as I talked with the next visitor. As I watch this reaction unfold with the next generation of teen volunteers, I have a different set of feelings; hopeful, humbled, and amazed by the expanse of their impact. Beyond instilling that sense of awe in Aquarium visitors, they inspire each other--to learn more, communicate more clearly, and seek greater feats. And working with high school students as they solidify plans for higher education is very meaningful. I can almost see their future paths formulate and then solidify.

This is the reason I dream of saving the ocean’s fish with a team of teenagers. I have felt the influence of the Seattle Aquarium’s volunteer program and I have seen the impact teenagers can have. They are truly humbling.