A Breathe of Fresh Air: My Summer at CEH

By
Olivia Zhu, CEH Summer Intern

In my senior year of high school, I felt stifled.  I went through the motions of applying to twenty-three colleges, slacking off on my school work, playing my final soccer game, and reveling in the last moments of my youth, but my heart wasn’t in it.  My graduation this June was anticlimactic.  My entire childhood, it seemed, had built up to that moment, but reality fell short of my expectations.  I found some amazing friends over the years, but I also found “friends” who were selfish and classmates who were insincere under pressure.  I worked hard to maintain good grades in high school only to find a college admissions process that was cruelly unfair to some.  The camaraderie and glory that I had anticipated didn’t fully exist.  The thought of life after graduation bothered me the most.  Seeing my older friends return from their freshman year of college dull and apathetic killed me.  They didn’t remember the fun and spontaneity of high school and instead seemed to be drones in the strange system that is college: “That’s just what happens in college,” they told me.  I had looked forward to college as a time for individuality, but I started to picture everyone turning into smartly-dressed, scowling people on the commuter train on Monday mornings.  I couldn’t take it.  My friends urged me to take a break before college, but I had to find something that would bring me back to a time before disillusionment.  By a stroke of luck, I found CEH.

When I first started my internship, I thought of CEH as something to do, something different, something to give me perspective.  CEH has blown all of those initial expectations away. It is more than just an environmental group or an advocacy group; to me, its pervasive sincerity represents the way I want to live. 

First and foremost, CEH is inspiring.  It has the courage to stand up for public health and to take on big corporations, even when it’s fighting millions of dollars in lobbying.  It remains serious and aloof from dirty tactics when dealing with dishonest groups, like Citizens for Fire Safety.  CEH is determined to do what’s right and stay true to its mission: at a meeting, one staff member asked, “But are we OK with that?” (as in, did we feel comfortable with only trying to ameliorate the problem rather than eliminate it completely.)  I was amazed that the organization could hold itself so accountable.  At the same time, CEH is realistic—they know that they can’t save every bunny species in Alaska.  CEH’s organic honesty carries through to the day-to-day operation of the organization: the oppressive hierarchy that I expected at work didn’t exist.  CEH is fluid—everyone helps one another, and everyone’s opinions are welcome.  Even though I was a development intern, I helped out with MOMS and administration, and I even testified at the flame retardant hearing!  I also never felt afraid to speak up during meetings.  CEH appreciates people, and more importantly, it values the potential of people—it doesn’t confine them to their job descriptions.  Because of CEH’s positivity, I worked because I wanted to work, not because someone was forcing me to.  I felt like I was a part of a team, a team that I admired for both its mission and its people.

Ultimately, CEH knows its place in the world and simply fights to live well.  It is unassuming—instead of blindly imposing its will, it collaborates with local groups when they are more affected by a particular issue—but it doesn’t back down once it has the facts.  Its approach is both genuine and refreshing.  Since interning at CEH, I have felt more motivated and more comfortable with the idea of leaving high school behind.  I am eager to go forth into the world, as I know that I will always have the power to stay true to myself and effect positive change.  CEH cleared the air, literally and figuratively, and helped me breathe again.

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