By Mikah Meyer, former Rotary Scholar
Growing up as a pastor’s kid in Nebraska, I had a strong desire to get out and see the world. But I would never have had the opportunity to pursue my dreams if it had not been for Rotary.
I was awarded a Rotary scholarship during my junior year at the University of Memphis, while earning a degree in voice performance. I heard about the opportunity through a teacher who had been a Rotary Scholar herself, and a close friend who had been a Rotary Youth Exchange Student.
My goal was to study under one of the few teaching countertenors in the world, but paying for college on my own, I would never have been able to manage it. I spent my scholarship year at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and stayed on a second year to complete my masters.
But even before my scholarship year began, Rotary made the impossible, possible. That summer, I had been selected for a non-paying internship with the U.S. State Department in Bern, Switzerland (my backup plan if music failed was to explore foreign service). Knowing I couldn’t afford to live in Switzerland, I took a shot in the dark and reached out to local Rotary clubs to see if there were any Italian speaking families who would be willing to host me, as I was studying Italian.
Lo and behold, a family from the Rotary Club of Bern Bubenberg came forward and agreed to take in this stranger, based solely on the stamp of approval that comes with having been chosen for a Rotary scholarship.
My hosts became like second parents to me. We have stayed in touch, and they call me their Figlio Americano (American son). After my graduate program and at their encouragement, I returned to Switzerland two summers to work, and they have visited me in the United States. A new Swiss Family (not Robinson) I would not have without Rotary.
Like the “Make Dreams Real” theme of my scholarship year, I am currently fulfilling another dream.
Like the “Make Dreams Real” theme of my scholarship year, I am currently fulfilling another dream. I have launched a bid to become the youngest person ever to visit all 413 U.S. National Park Service sites, and the only person to do it in one continuous trip.
I lost my father to cancer when I was 19. He loved taking road trips, and yet he passed away at age 58, before a retirement allowing time to hit the road. A few days after his funeral, I climbed in his Hyundai Elantra, still smelling of his lingering pipe fumes, and embarked on my first independent road trip. It was the first of what has become an annual road trip to honor my dad’s memory and the retirement he never had. Those trips have made me realize, you can’t hold off on your dreams, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
On both the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and The Rotary Foundation’s centennial, I take pride in knowing my current road trip fits this year’s theme, “Rotary Serving Humanity.” By using my journey to advocate for greater youth participation in the parks, I’m helping the Park Service reach a demographic they’ve struggled to interest. By blogging and sharing about my experience, I like to think I am also honoring my Rotary involvement by encouraging others to follow their dreams while they can, and to pursue something bigger than themselves.
Without Rotary, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I thank my scholarship and my Rotary Swiss Family for helping make me the global citizen I always dreamed I’d be. And I thank Rotary for teaching me to make my goals about more than myself, instilling in me a desire for “Service Above Self.”