National Geographic young explorer Trip Jennings visited Thursday with tales of wild rivers full of surprise whirlpools, rebels and poachers armed with AK-47s, and some amazing discoveries.
More importantly, though, he brought a goal to inspire students to pursue their passions and to make bold choices.
Jennings’ visit was coordinated by Redmond City Councilman John Stilin and a group of students including his son Nick, who secured sponsors such as Waste-Management, Hotel Sierra, and the Redmond High School PTSA, to help them fund their own version of National Geographic’s Live! speakers series.
Andy van Duym, Director of the National Geographic Live Speakers Bureau, said the organization usually invites explorers who have a long history of work with National Geographic to speak at its series, but Stilin wanted to bring someone younger to connect more directly with high school students.
“This is sort of John’s riff on that,” van Duym said, “to bring a young, sort of up-and-coming talent closer in age to the kids in the school.”
Through the Young Explorers grant program, National Geographic gives $5,000 grants to young adults with compelling expedition ideas, van Duym said. The grants help cover field project costs for the work of archaeologists, anthropologists, astronomers, conservationists, ecologists, geographers, geologists, marine scientists, adventurers, storytellers and pioneers.
Jennings, now 28, told students he received such a grant in 2007, when he was 24 years old for an expedition through Papua New Guinea, in which he paddled a river to the sea by way of a drainage basin that was marked for a clear cut. During the 60-day trip, they survived crocodile encounters and a 55-foot drop from a waterfall.
Jennings also described two subsequent trips to the Congo, where in 2008 he led a team of whitewater kayakers on the first successful descent of the Lower Congo Rapids. During his talk and a question-and-talk session afterword, Jennings weaved in tales of facing tall odds in search of elephant dung with lessons on being flexible and being tough, in answer to one student’s question about what it takes to be an explorer.
Other questions ranged from the practical — what types of vaccinations do you need for jungle travel (Jennings said he’s had all the vaccinations you can imagine, including an expensive Malaria series, after contracting the disease in Papua New Guinea) — to the typical teenage curiosity. When asked what was the weirdest thing he’d seen on an adventure, Jennings described native children catching and eating bats in detail to a small group of students who stayed after the presentation, sacrificing their lunch hour to talk with him.
Jennings, who is from Portland, Ore., now produces documentaries on the ramifications of exporting northwest coal to other countries and is also working on a jaguar documenting study that will be done on the Yucatan Peninsula.
He said he really wants to encourage kids to grab the bull by the horns.
“Figure out what you’re passionate about and go for it,” he told one student.
Stilin said he hopes the series will continue at Redmond High, with students doing taking over the organizing and planning duties in the future.