Graduation Day

Aug. 24, 2015
Week 6 – Graduation is just the beginning

The day arrived quicker than anticipated – the last session of the inaugural Department of Natural Resources Youth Conservation Academy, held at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center in downtown Detroit. Monday, Aug. 24 was graduation day. Not meant to be the end of their natural resources experiences but just the beginning, the final session involved planning and next steps for these 38 hardworking students, aged 16-19.

The first hour of the morning was spent providing academy feedback to DNR representatives, led by DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler. The class talked about what they had enjoyed during the academy, suggested changes and additions for the next academy, and showed interest in participating in the upcoming Detroit Youth Conservation Club.

Supported by the DNR, the community and natural resource-based agencies and clubs from across the state, the conservation club – which will be formed in the upcoming months - will be youth administered and focused on outdoor recreational activities, natural resource-based community initiatives and further learning opportunities. Half of the academy students showed interest in participating in the club, and a third indicated they wanted to participate in the club in a leadership role.

Throughout the day, class participants were taken in small groups to receive - and many for the first time – their fishing license, provided to them by anonymous donors. Later in the day, during presentation of graduation certificates, they would receive tools to make their fishing excursions even better.

During this time, participants also headed outdoors to participate in BB gun practice in a special range set up by DNR conservation officers in the facility parking lot. The officers assisted the students with instruction. Participants also engaged in more laser shot practice – which uses a firearm that only shoots a beam at a screen – an exercise they enjoyed during the last session.

After a pizza party lunch, students were joined by Michigan United Conservation Clubs Deputy Director Amy Trotter, who discussed conservation and career next steps, and Larry Sargent, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. vice president and retired DNR conservation officer. Sargent spoke about the many opportunities for students in aviation, from pilots to airplane mechanics and traffic control operators. Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. offers many opportunities to youth and young adults, he said, including plane rides and, for older youth, flight lessons, all at no charge.

After more time outdoors engaging in shooting sports, the students returned to their meeting room for the culmination. DNR Director Keith Creagh addressed the group, noting that they will play a vital role in conserving and managing Michigan’s natural resources. “It’s important that you join the conversation now,” he said, “and it’s our responsibility to provide you with the tools and support you’ll need.”

Creagh, Hagler and Sgt. Damon Owens, a DNR conservation officer, presented the graduates with their graduation certificate, fishing pole (sponsored by Detroit-based Big Moe’s Bait and Tackle) and tackle box.

Although the inaugural academy was over, students are now poised to continue their natural resource-based learning and experiences, supported by the DNR, the Detroit community and so many others. Congratulations to the class of 2015!