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June 1, 2002
Vol. 44
No. 4

Climbing Mountains, Real and Metaphorical

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      Stacy Allison, who spoke at the Second General Session, is the first American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. But she didn't make it on her first attempt. Partway up the mountain, a brutal storm forced Allison and three teammates to take refuge in a tiny snow cave for days. Eventually, they had to admit defeat.
      eu200206 allison stacy
      Stacy Allison
      “It takes strength and courage to climb a mountain. It takes strength, courage, and wisdom to turn around,” Allison said. “It takes strength to look at our situation honestly and objectively. It takes courage to recognize that we need to change and actually to take steps toward that change. Wisdom is learning from our past—from our mistakes and from the things we did right.”
      On that unsuccessful climb, Allison learned a life-changing lesson. “I was solely focused on myself and reaching my goal,” she confessed. “I didn't care how I got to the top of Everest; I just had to be first. I wasn't a team player.” Afterward, she realized that it takes many people working in cooperation to achieve success. “Another thing I learned,” she added, “is that when we help other people reach their goals, we usually reach our own.”
      The following year, Allison made another attempt to reach the summit. “We climbed at night, when everything was frozen,” she related. Climbing during daylight hours was too dangerous, because the sun would heat up the surrounding peaks and cause avalanches.
      She described the panic she felt the first time she had to cross a swaying ladder over a crevasse. “I needed to ‘focus down.’ The big picture was overwhelming. I didn't need to know there was a 100-foot crevasse. That was not helping me with the task at hand. I needed to focus on my steps.” In the same way, she said, educators need to filter out the things they have no control over. “Once we finish walking across those ladders, then we can look at the big picture.”
      On this second attempt, Allison made it to the top of Mount Everest. “The top is a great place for vision, for [spotting] new opportunities for growth and development,” she said. “In the end, we have to come back down and set new goals and start the climb again.”
      The world is not changed by people standing on mountaintops, Allison acknowledged in closing. “You all have an incredible opportunity to affect the lives of our young people, and that affects the future of each and every one of us,” she told her audience of educators. “You're the ones who make a difference in this world.”

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