Environmental Almanac | In memory of a beloved student


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You may already know from news reports that a University of Illinois undergraduate, Destyni Thomas, passed away last weekend.

Destyni was a student in a current class of mine, as well as an advisee in the Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability minor, and a participant in a field trip class I taught in fall of 2016 that traveled over a weekend to Baraboo, Wis.

I'll remember her always for her friendliness, her intelligence and her intellectual curiosity. She was a student who teachers and classmates alike looked forward to spending time with.

In memory of Destyni, I want to share with you this week in its entirety one of the brief pieces of writing she did for the Baraboo class, an excerpt that ran at the time in the travel page the students produced for The News-Gazette. It refers to our tour of the site where Aldo Leopold did much of the thinking for his landmark book, "A Sand County Almanac," which we read in the course.

"Dedication," by Destyni Thomas

It was chilly, drizzling, early, and there were an abundance of mosquitos, but I couldn't help but to be pleased with the scene around me. Tall, thin trees towered above us, red pines as I would come to find. As we stood there at the wooden gate that lead to where the Leopold family once called home, the tour guide told us about how Aldo Leopold came to own the land, and what he did there, mentioning that every year he and his family planted 3,000 of the red pines I was looking up at.

We walked down a pathway through the trees, into the clearing that contained "the shack" where the family of seven spent weekends and summers, hardly larger than a modern-day shed. There was prairie on both sides of the path — goldenrod, cutleaf Silphium and many other plants I may never know the names of. The guide told us of how Leopold brought his family out here, to the middle of nowhere, trekking through the snow just to see the new place their husband and father had purchased, how in the following years they all renovated the shack and rehabilitated the land, making it into what it is today, and more like it had been before it was ever come upon by people.

Contemplating the visit to the Leopold's property, I think about the devotion the whole family had toward restoring that land, all the time and effort they put into it and how greatly it came to affect the Leopold children's futures. The work ethic and passion they had can be applied to anything; if enough work is put in, I know truly meaningful, even beautiful, results can be obtained.

None of us finish completely the good work we set out to do in life, but when we live our values, as Destyni did, we build community as we go, and our efforts are carried on through the hands and voices of others.

On campus, Destyni was a treasured member of Students for Environmental Concerns, a group whose members are mourning her loss and who will this week be dedicating their Earth Week Art Show to her memory.

You can find details about the art show and the many other Earth Week events they have organized through their Facebook page.

Rob Kanter is a clinical associate professor with the UI School of Earth, Society and Environment. You can reach him via email at rkanter@illinois.edu.

Earth Week

In addition to events organized by student activists, Earth Week will be marked by a wide range of activities at the UI and throughout the Champaign-Urbana community. These include a clean-energy jobs forum organized by the local chapter of the Sierra Club and others, which will take place at the Illinois Terminal building from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, campus lectures on climate change, workshops, open houses and more. Find a comprehensive calendar maintained by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment at sustainability.illinois.edu/earth-month-2019-schedule.