Dehart, who previously served as a Shark Advisor for the Discovery Channel, spoke to Severn students from the Middle and Upper Schools, sharing a presentation titled “Live Every Week Like It’s Shark Week.” Following the morning assembly, Dehart hosted a Q&A for students interested in learning more about his career, visited several classes, and enjoyed lunch with students as well.
The David Astle Memorial Lecture Series is an annual event through which knowledgeable and inspirational speakers are invited to share their expertise, experiences, and messages with the community.
‘Most Likely to Be Eaten by a Shark’
The title for Dehart’s presentation was fitting, since – as he shared to kick off his talk – his 20-year prediction in the Severn yearbook was: Most Likely to Be Eaten by A Shark!
Throughout his lively and often humorous address to students, Dehart doled out career and life advice, illustrating his points with interesting personal anecdotes that marked inflection points in his own life. Examples of his advice included: don’t burn bridges, do the jobs nobody else wants to do, get out of your comfort zone, and never say never.
To underscore his advice to do the jobs nobody else wants to do, Dehart shared with the audience how accepting a job to work with the aquarium rebuild project in Washington, D.C. – at the time, regarded as one of the worst aquariums in the country – accelerated his career. Not only did he get invaluable hands-on experience from rebuilding 58 of the 60 exhibits, but that particular project is what caught the attention of the Discovery Channel team and led to him getting hired as a Shark Advisor for the network.
Another story he shared was about doing the show “Sharks After Dark” for the Discovery Channel, the goal of which was to film shark behaviors at night. They’d work between 2 and 6 a.m. in the pitch black. “Was I scared?” he asked. “Heck, yeah! But was I going to sit that one out? No!” Getting out of his comfort zone on that trip turned out to be another trajectory in his career.
Dehart also implored students to apply themselves and listen to advice from the trusted people around them. His career actually got started in high school, when – with the help of a Severn teacher, Mrs. Pearsall – he landed a summer internship at the Baltimore Aquarium. While he admits to being an average student in the classroom, this particular teacher recognized his passion for marine life and helped to get him into the program. Dehart would later return to Baltimore to run the Aquarium’s collection program (don’t burn bridges), marking another period of career growth for him.
He also encouraged students to do whatever they can to gain practical experience in their field of interest, noting that he has hired hundreds of employees over the years, and that demonstrated life experience is often what makes a candidate stand out. For him, that meant taking on unpaid internships or even working for free in order to gain experience.
Throughout his talk, Dehart also sought to educate the audience about sharks, even sharing a touching story about Roxanne, a tiger shark that they brought in to the aquarium that he helped build in Nebraska (again, do the jobs nobody else wants to do!). They developed a routine where Dehart would get into the water, and Roxanne would swim down to him and hit him in the forehead with her pectoral fin. She only reacted that way with him; in fact, they tried to recreate this with other people wearing his gear and wetsuit, but Roxanne reserved this greeting solely for Dehart. They had developed a special connection and this was yet another life-changing experience.
At present, Dehart is the President and CEO of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a world-class facility in Juno Beach, FL that promotes the conservation of ocean ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. Ironically, sea turtles are the preferred meal for tiger sharks, the species that initially ignited Dehart’s passion for marine life. But after achieving his career goals before he turned 40, he realized that what he wanted next was to build a culture inside an organization that would help him to encourage more people to care about the ocean. “It’s important that you find where you fit, and the right culture for you,” he said.
His talk concluded with time for Q&A, and students of all ages took advantage of the opportunity to ask additional questions about a career in marine conservation.
About The David Astle Memorial Lecture Series
John and Jayne Astle established an endowment fund in 1998 after the tragic accidental death of their son David Sheridan Astle. A 1992 Severn School alumnus, David was an active member of the school community during his seven years as a student, and a well-liked member of the alumni body. He told his mother shortly before his death that he felt he had developed life-long friends while at Severn School. He realized Severn taught him more than the basics of education; Severn School helped develop his character by encouraging his own innate sense of integrity, responsibility, honor, and commitment.
The David Astle Memorial Endowment funds the annual lecture series through which knowledgeable and/or inspirational speakers are invited to share their expertise, experiences, and messages with the community. To learn more about the lecture series and the endowment fund, visit this page.