The first negotiation I went to was Bali in 2007. That’s when they put in place a roadmap to the Copenhagen negotiations of 2009, where we were going to create the agreement that would solve climate change. I thought, This is going to save the world! So my years at COA were knee-deep in climate issues. I went to negotiations, worked for the House of Representatives’ Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, and interned in the State Department office that dealt with climate change to see if the inside game was where I was going to fit. But I found it way too bureaucratic and ended up working for Avaaz, a global advocacy organization.

Then, as a senior, Climate Action Network hired me in the year leading up to Copenhagen, first as an intern, then as staff. I went to five negotiations that year because there were a bunch of prep meetings. And it all came crashing down in Copenhagen! This house of cards I’d built for myself was totally blasted. I was super disillusioned—and I still had to get back to campus to try to graduate on time.

I didn’t want to have anything to do with the UN or with climate. Then Julia DeSantis ’12 was interested in going to the UN Commission on Social Development in New York. I’ve heard you went to the UN a bunch; do you have any advice? she asked. The only thing I could muster was, Prepare to be disappointed. Then I felt bad, so I went with her to the Commission on the Status of Women. Six years after, last October, we got married!

But Copenhagen, and having to wrestle with the hard reality of the challenges we’re facing, that this isn’t a short-term endeavor, was my growing-up moment. Coming to terms with this as a lifelong struggle toward justice, that we’re always going to fall short—because we’re already falling short and climate change is already here—is a tough thing to internalize.

The orientation I take now is less about the grand abstract sense of solving climate change and more about creating change better—being a better activist, a better citizen, finding new and better ways to engage people and build community and resilience with them. I used to just work until I fell asleep. Now I’m taking time to appreciate life and marriage and friends and family, because that’s what it’s all about.

ActivistLab is an online space to share what we’re learning, what we’re doing well, what we’re doing poorly, to examine our assumptions, challenge ourselves to take risks and push beyond what’s easy to cross-pollinate between issues, movements, organizations. Also to tell stories of who we are and why we do this work, because progress is slow and it happens in fits and starts. I’m excited to be working on it with Sam Miller-McDonald ’09. He’s at Oxford now getting a PhD and looking at these issues through a more academic lens.

The time that I spent off campus as an undergrad, the connections I made, and the work I did in the real world has led to this career. It’s different when you’re applying for a job and can say, I organized this rally and mobilized these people. You’re able to enter the job market with four years of experience.