Semester at Sea is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that changes you… I mean truly changes you. It is a journey of learning, loving & loss that not only makes you re-examine how you look at the the world but prompts growth & change to create bonds that last a life-time.
My journey with Semester at Sea (SAS) began at a very young age. My grandparents became ‘life-long learners’ taking their first SAS journey in 1983, just a few months after I was born. Well-seasoned travelers themselves, they realized what a unique experience this was and easily made the decision they would support and encourage all of their grandchildren to make their own voyages as college students. So in a way, I grew up with the program hearing their stories with each subsequent voyage (they completed 11 in all over the past 28 years), looking expectantly forward to the day I would be able to go myself.
Finally in the fall of 2002 it was my time. My cousin Lauren & I are the oldest of all 7 grandkids and the first to participate in SAS as students. The anticipation was palpable… the planning and packing and prep consuming the forefront of our thoughts nearly the entire summer before-hand. This was a voyage we had quite literally been waiting for our entire lifes.
I can’t quite pinpoint when it hit. Things started changing with that first spray of salty air in the Pacific as we began the 14 day crossing from Vancouver, BC to Kobe, Japan. It continued to China when we climbed the Great Wall and experienced the hustle and bustle of a truly international city like Hong Kong. Next was Vietnam and the worlds that we all left behind were quickly vanishing.
Today was about riding the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on the back of a mo-ped and getting caught in a downpour (not that it mattered because with the humidity you were bound to sweat through your clothing anyway). Today was about jumping in the ocean in Malaysia at night and watching the phosphorus light up the water. Today was walking through the streets of Chennai & Agra & Jaipur at 4am to make it to your train, stepping around people sleeping in the streets as you went, looking in near-disbelief at buildings centuries old. Tomorrow was another adventure. In the words of Dean Lloyd, “China tomorrow, China tomorrow, China tomorrow.”
Somehow throughout this journey the community on the ship grew from merely just a community to near-family on a small sliver of steel somewhere in this world’s oceans. I’ve re-written this post nearly a half-dozen times and even still it isn’t quite right. I don’t have the same gift of words that some of my contemporaries do but I certainly hope that if nothing else, I can share a small tribute to someone who has not only touched the lives of a few but has continued to inspire many through those he has touched.
I had mentioned earlier that this journey of adventure and discovery was also a journey of loss. Unfortunately that loss came all too soon for a dear friend, an alumni of the SAS Fall 2002 voyage, Ryan Thomas, who passed away suddenly in 2004. Today (February 22nd) was his birthday.
For all those that knew him, Ry was a complete joy & one of a kind. If I had to think of a few things to paint a picture of Ryan I would say sun-bleached hair, checkered Vans, neon shorts, and an infectious smile. Ryan was one of those people that everyone loved. He simply showed up and instantly you felt like he was a friend you had known for a lifetime. Sadly, as all truly incredible lives often are, his was cut much too short as he was taken from this world in 2004. A true testament to his character and his life, he has continued to help people form an incredible connection well past his time in this world. In addition to wonderful reuinions with many toasts to Ryan’s memory, even more meaningful is the start to an incredible legacy in the form of the Ryan Thomas Memorial Scholarship Foundation which will help future students have the amazing experience Ryan loved so much that is Semester at Sea.
For more insight on this incredible journey & a beautiful letter Ryan sent his mama, check this out!
In writing this, I have to speak to another great loss. My grandfather, Eugene Q. Key, who was not only a life-long learner & alumnus of SAS but an avid believer in the program & willing supporter. He was one of the classiest gentleman I’ve ever known and had a passion for SAS and what it stands for unlike anyone I’ve ever met. One of the greatest gifts he’s given to his grandkids is a wanderous spirit and an adventurous soul. Sadly he left this world last fall. What he proudly left behind was a love of travel and a legacy that we will strive to uphold; family & friends feel his absense profoundly & are happy to toast his memory with a glass of Johnny Walker Red label.
If you are interested in donating to the Ryan Thomas Memorial Scholarship Fund and/or learnining more about Semester at Sea, please let us know!