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Serving by the Blue Ridge Mountains

 by Gabriella Haire
2015 Most Valuable Student Scholar

My name is Gabriella Haire and I am a junior studying biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota. Beyond dreaming up medical innovations, I enjoy volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, training for cross country ski races, and exploring new cities one ice cream shop at a time.


Following a typical track practice in March 2015, I received an atypical email. It was an invitation to the Elks Most Valuable Student Leadership Weekend and the promise of an Elks National Foundation scholarship. I was elated as I celebrated in the locker room, but I didn’t fully realize how that email and the Leadership Weekend were just the beginning of my relationship with the Elks.

After a physics lecture in November 2015, I received an email confirming my acceptance to the Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip in Oakland, California. I was eager to connect with Elks scholars for a whole week, rather than just a weekend. As it turned out, a week was nowhere near enough time.

Following a long day of exams this past January, I received an email inviting me to pack my bags for Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week serving and exploring alongside 12 Elks scholars. Again, I was eager to have the opportunity to meet even more scholars, but I was apprehensive that I would spend the week comparing new friendships and experiences to old ones. With that considered, I hopped on a plane with an open mind and John Denver on repeat. I should have known that I’d be wrong; by the end of the first night I was already staying up late talking with newfound friends.

On the first day of service, we bonded over our shared experience in the cold drizzle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We settled into our home for the week and learned more about each other’s stories. As the week progressed, we learned each other’s passions, developed inside jokes, and embarked on many hikes on the YMCA trail system. Many laughs were shared as we spent the week sacrificing sleep to make the most of our time.

Throughout all my experiences, I have found that Elks scholars are unwaveringly genuine. This authenticity gives way to meaningful connections that last far beyond the time spent together. I have found in these scholars a network of driven individuals with wide-reaching passions. Their dedication challenges me to pursue the best and most authentic version of myself. Without a doubt, I am better because of these people.

As I write this, my computer background is a photo from the steps of the Elks Memorial Building where I am surrounded by the 2015 Top 20 MVS scholars. I am at my desk with a newly framed picture from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and my phone has a handful of messages from various Elks scholars. These items are testaments to the value of Elks scholar relationships, and I eagerly await reuniting with many of them in San Antonio in June at the 150 for 150 Service Trip.


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