Written by Carrie M. Grimes '91 for the Summer 2018 Odyssey Issue of The Bridge (abridged version)
As the Class of 2018 set sail at Commencement this June and embarked upon their voyages beyond Water Street, many of us inevitably paused to take stock of our own journeys. Are we where we envisioned we’d be when we set sail years ago from high school? Have our journeys brought storms, calm seas, or a bit of both? Did we follow “the gleam”?
Merriam-Webster defines a gleam as “a transient appearance of subdued or partly obscured light,” while scholars of the Victorian bard Tennyson have interpreted his gleam as a metaphor for the “higher imagination…inspiration both supernatural and elusive,” (Haight, 1947); an emblem of “the ocean voyage, associated spiritual rebirth and psychological evolution” (Fulweiler, 1965).
On the Brink of Something Life-Changing
There is a familiar feeling of being on the brink of something life-changing — of seeking out the pinpoints of light on our personal horizons. Jack Kerouac captured this simultaneous backward and forward glance of such new experiences perfectly in his iconic memoir On The Road: “What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” These alumni odysseys remind us to always endeavor to “follow the gleam!”
A Miraculous Hike
A self-described go-getter and experiential learner, Carrie L. Duvall ’84 wasn’t particularly in search of adventure when she landed in Orlando, Fla. following her graduation from Elon University in the late 80s; rather, she sought the security of family. Carrie took her new hometown by storm, quickly building a resume in the fast-paced corporate scene of recruiting, sales, and management training. Despite being half the age of many of her new colleagues, Duvall seized every opportunity and within a couple of years had catapulted into managing a team of over 3,500 employees.
While she found the interpersonal interactions of her work exhilarating, Duvall discovered that the demands of earning an executive MBA, traveling, and working weekends and holidays were simply too much. So, at the dawn of the internet, she decided to pivot and started a boutique software firm specializing in online data integration.
Carrie’s blossoming, dynamic career came to a screeching halt in October 2015 when she was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer. She describes her approach to the cancer diagnosis as “a project” which she undertook with the same vigor as her professional life.
When her cancer treatment was complete, Carrie felt drawn to a “gleam.” She describes it as “a strong desire to reset, do something healthy, and explore and fulfill a lifelong dream.” Inspired by Bill Bryson’s memoir A Walk in the Woods, Duvall signed up for a guided backwoods backpacking adventure, covering sixty miles over six days on the Appalachian Trail.
“All I could focus on was the next step, the next step, the next step. Before my hike, I was grieving for all the time I had lost to cancer and anxious about what my new normal would be. Now, on the trail, all that mattered was each moment. Hiking stripped away all of the noise of life…it was miraculous. I felt so alive!”
She’s now engaged in an ongoing practice of wellness which includes regular hiking, walking, weight lifting and yoga. Reflecting on the lessons she’s learned on her journey, Carrie has this advice for the Class of 2018, “Don’t wait to accumulate experiences. If you’re considering a move, ask yourself, ‘What is holding me back? What am I waiting for?’ If you don’t have a good reason for inaction, then go for it. Be authentic — look at where you can help out in your communities, then raise your hand and show up.”