We are proud to announce the selection of Kayla Heidenreich, BA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Outdoor Adventure Leadership and Journalism and Media, as Sierra Nevada University’s 2021 Valedictorian.
I came to SNU as a naïve but aspiring Outdoor Adventure Leadership major. I love spending my time exploring the Tahoe basin, and climbing mountains in order to snowboard back down them. I completed my Wilderness First Responder and Avalanche Safety certifications through SNU. I successfully completed a 21-day Outward Bound Leadership course in which we were stuck the entire trip in a high country blizzard with no gloves, winter coats or snowshoes. I led a 5 day orientation backpacking trip through the Desolation Wilderness. This was an amazing leadership experience where I got the chance to lay out the welcome mat and introduce these students to their new backyard.
As I dove into my second Interdisciplinary major I began to connect my love for the outdoors with journalism. This led me to Brennan Lagasse’s Arctic Refuge course – a course that changed my world and my place within it.
During my junior and senior years, I crammed every sustainability course possible into my schedule. I have been deeply involved with both the Climate Alliance Club and the Social Justice Club. I’m proud that both of these organizations are safe spaces where students can confidently express themselves, voice their opinions, and develop their sense of community. At the Climate Alliance club, we organized a club event to look at which Indigenous Tribes’ land we each came from. I got a large map and pins, and everyone pinned the traditional name of their hometown on the map and gave a brief history. So many people showed up, and it had so much impact, that our next project is to bring it to the entire SNU student population.
I have found a new passion for amplifying the voices of those who have been oppressed, and I believe carrying that through our education system is vital in creating a new future.
I worked with the Sierra Club and Alaska Wilderness League to create a 24-part curriculum based on environmental and cultural sustainability. Part of that curriculum was sent to over 400 schools through the Sierra Club. I am also creating a website to provide access to the curriculum for all. I launched a petition to help the Washoe Women rename “Squaw” Valley which obtained over 100,000 signatures. That led me to working on Emily Tesmer’s documentary Walking with my Sisters as an editor and producer. I believe this is some of my best work, because it has created a ripple effect around me.
Kayla was chosen from a field of thirteen distinguished candidates. Each of the nominees illustrated curiosity, academic dedication, and significant personal investment in our larger culture and community. They inspired us with their stories and accomplishments. It was very difficult for the selection committee of Steve Ellsworth, Richard Gire, Mary Kenny, Robert King, and non-voting chair Katie Zanto to choose. The other 2021 valedictorian nominees are: