State 07: Connecticut

Bethany, Connecticut, U.S.A. | October 12-13, 2017

Video by: Graham Nolte

Veteran: Sean Pesce
Branch: U.S. Army Ranger

Artist: Sasha Safir-Temple
Website: sashasafirtemple.com
Instagram: @sasha.jp3g

Video: Graham Nolte
Photography: Xavier Guerra

Venue: MTV
Partners: MTV, Alpha Industries

State Sponsor: Available

BELIEVE IN YOUR WEAKNESS

U.S. Army Ranger Veteran Sean Pesce and MTV graphic designer Sasha Safir-Temple collaborated to create the design “Believe In Your Weakness,” an illustrative expression of Sean’s positivity and continual drive to be the best version of himself by turning his weaknesses into strengths. On the last mission of his deployment in 2012, Sean was shot thirteen times, leading him to be paralyzed from the bellybutton down, undergo countless surgeries and hours of rehabilitation, be hospitalized for a year, and have continual complications to this day.

At the beginning of what seemed like an unending path to recovery, Sean saw the obstacles that lay ahead of him as ways to improve and grow. A goal-oriented individual who never settles, the desire for a challenge is what motivated Sean to become an Army Ranger in the first place. Through their design, Sasha and Sean hope to inspire others to recognize the opportunities hidden beneath what we believe to be our weaknesses.

Flying the highest of all birds, the eagle represents Sean’s strength in overcoming his fear of heights while the sun and the star are symbols pulled from the Ranger Crest and the lightning bolt from his position as a Forward Observer–the communicator between air and ground units. Above it all, the thirteen rays of light symbolize the thirteen bullets that struck Sean, eventually leading him to adopt his positive attitude of living with his injuries, seeing them as motivation to do more and constantly strive to improve.

In collaboration with Alpha Industries, the designs from the 50 States: Veterans + Artists United tour are produced into a limited number of fifty t-shirts and embroidered patches. Click the product images below to purchase Sean and Sasha’s collaborative “Believe In Your Weakness” design exclusively on AlphaIndustries.com.

 TSHIRT: $30.00 

PRINTED IN U.S.A.

Size Shown: Large (Unisex)

 PATCH: $17.00 

MADE IN U.S.A.

Patch Width: 3.50″

 BEHIND-THE-PROCESS: 

Written by: Kendra Clapp Olguín

Passing Lil Yachty adjusting his diamond-encrusted chains as he entered the loud, screaming TRL set located in MTV’s headquarters was exactly how this Connecticut project got rolling. Having struck out finding a designer and videographer while actually in Connecticut, we told U.S. Army Ranger Veteran Sean Pesce not to worry; that we’d figure something out.

A few weeks later, we were walking from New York’s chaotic Times Square into Viacom’s lobby to meet with Rich Tu, our Oregon designer who had recently left Nike to be the VP of Design at MTV. It was on our way into the elevator that we passed Lil Yachty, close enough to hear the sound of the beads in his hair as he moved. 

Walking into Rich’s office was like walking into his mind. His bold artwork, collectible sneakers, and awards make you feel like you’re walking into a modern art museum but then, at a closer glance, you see the various quirky trinkets and objects that make you feel like you’re peering into the creative thought-bubbles of Rich Tu.

We sit in front of the television that’s playing the recently rebooted TRL show, his latest project with MTV. After exchanging the normal pleasantries, Rich asked if there was a way he and MTV could help with the 50 States: Veterans + Artists United tour. We were ecstatic and grateful, reminded of the difference one person can make. Tyler and I looked at each other thinking the same thing, we had to get Sean from Bethany, Connecticut to NYC.

The very next week, we took the PATH into the city, exchanging trains at the World Trade Center’s transportation hub, Oculus, and got off in Greenwich Village where Viacom has additional offices. In the lobby we met Humy Çelik, a Coordinating Producer at MTV, and Kelly McCrossin, a Production Coordinator at VH1, who helped find accommodations in the city for Sean and organize the logistics of the Connecticut project. Once settled into one of Viacom’s bright and funky conference rooms, we waited to meet our designer.

MTV Associate Art Director Sasha Safir-Temple is wickedly talented, able to take ordinary concepts and bring them to light with unconventional design and striking color. When you first meet her, you notice she manages the impossible of being both cool and down-to-earth at the very same time. Highly recommended by Rich, we were excited for her to collaborate with Sean. Arriving just a few minutes before him, she walked into the hot pink conference room and took a seat at the white midcentury tulip table.

With a few minutes to spare, Sean and his girlfriend Mare Hassan arrived. Although the room was filled with Viacom employees anxiously waiting to meet him, Sean was calm and collected. With such an incredible story, he’s used to sharing it with others. Having had the opportunity to meet him while in Connecticut, Tyler and I were excited for him to not only share his story once more, but for the first time, but to also have him collaborate with an artist to create a design representing it.

After going around the table and giving introductions, it was time for Sean to kickoff the design days by sharing his experience serving in the U.S. Army with Sasha. 

Knowing exactly what he wanted to do out of high school, Sean signed up for the Army during his sophomore year with the determination to become a Ranger. 

To give some context, to become a Ranger is to become part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite airborne light infantry combat formation within the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), being 1% of the 1%. Breaking that down, Rangers are multi-skilled soldiers trained in airborne combat (being dropped into battle from aircraft- think parachutes), light infantry combat (the ability to move quickly and fluidly by being in impeccable shape and carrying relatively lighter equipment- although in human standards it’s still super heavy), and are dedicated to special operations and missions. Think of them as the Army’s ninjas- except they are not; they are “RANGERS,” a term the skilled group take tremendous pride in.

“Before going into the any military branch, you have to take a qualification military test. When I originally took it, I got a 65; 55 is passing for military members so I was cool. I had a year or two to study after that so the second time I took it, I got a 97; the highest it goes to is 135. If you pass 80 to 85, you pretty much qualify for everything,” Sean explains to Sasha after she asked him what motivated him to enlist.

“I wanted to do something different, to do something that challenged me,” he goes on explaining. “Once you get your score, you get to see little videos of what you qualify for and I got Forward Observer. With that and my score, I had the ability to add “airborne” and “option 30 into my contract. I felt like a sports player negotiating my contract. I automatically qualified into the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP).”

RASP is intense and that might be putting it lightly. It’s a program that weeds out soldiers not qualified physically and mentally to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Located in Fort Benning, Georgia, RASP tests trainees and pushes them to their breaking points. The majority of the class quits throughout the eight-week course. 

“It was miserable, the worst time of my life,” Sean recalls. “The [75th Ranger] Regiment wants the most physically and mentally fit since it’s not an easy job with what we do. They do the most grueling things the first week to try to make you quit.” 

“What were some of the mental things that they would test you to do?” Sasha asks Sean.

“They just start throwing your shit all over the place and tell you to pick and pack it up and if we didn’t pack it up in time, within two minutes, we didn’t get to ride the bus so we’d have to carry all of our stuff and run behind the bus for two miles. There are 80 to 180 people there and those numbers quickly decline. I think we lost half of our people before RASP even started. If you don’t keep up physically, you get kicked out. If your instructors don’t like you, you get kicked out. There are peer evaluations. If the people training with you in your squad don’t like you, that can get you kicked out. If you don’t make it through Cole Range, you’re out. Then there’s this 12-mile ruck-march. They give you three hours to make it, otherwise, see ya.” 

Trainees would often be told to “hit the woodline,” a disciplinary instruction given at times for no reason at all. “It’s a big open field, maybe two football fields put together. Whenever they say that, you have to go run and grab a stuck from the tree line. They can tell you that, doesn’t matter when, and you just go, run, and hit the woodline,” Sean explains.

After hearing various mental and physical challenges Sean faced while at RASP, Sasha asks what motivated him through it. 

“I’m a very stubborn person and I don’t like to quit. I can accomplish a lot of things if I focus and I know I have the talent to do most things. I’m a lazy person but if something challenges me, I’ll do it,” he shares with her.

Not yet knowing anything about the additional training he had to go through once becoming a Ranger, his deployment, his injury, or his recovery, “lazy” was still not the term anyone in the room would use to describe Sean. Yet we all could sense the change and pride Sean had in his experience becoming a Ranger.

Thus, through incredible perseverance and determination, Sean passed and qualified to join the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment as a Forward Observer (FO) where he would go onto participate in special operations and missions during a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan.

“To minimize our risks, we only go out at night,” he explains to Sasha. He shows her the Rangers’ distinctive unit insignia (DUI), the Rangers’ emblem that is in the shape of a shield that bares the symbols of a sun, lightning bolt, and star. 

“We go after high-valued targets. They pretty much compile a list of the main leaders and weapon manufacturers. We go directly after the people of power who are committing the crimes; the people who are confirmed terrorists. They would be sleeping and wouldn’t see us. We had night-vision goggles and when you wear them, you don’t have depth-perception. You walk into things that you thought were five-feet away and the ones I worked with didn’t have perisperhal vision,” Sean says as he grins. He goes onto explain the intention of his missions, “It was aggravating, to risk our safety and lives to bring him in safely for him to be put on trail, to get more information out of him, and ultimately for his president to bail him out. He’d be back on the streets after a few months.”

Yet, no matter how frustrating internally, you do not show it as a Ranger and complete your missions. As a FO, Sean was in charge of aircraft. “On a typical night, I would have three to five planes on man-drones to look at certain parts off the village and look at our route. Then I would get on the radio and tell them to look at certain parts of the village. I would have two teams of apache helicopters. I had an important job because I was communicating between aircrafts and anyone on the ground. I was the middleman. In my headphones the left ear would be aircraft and the right [ear] would be squad leaders on the ground.”

He went on of the environment and climate of the dangerous Ghanzi Province in Afghanistan, “The altitude change there sucked. The elevation was almost eight-thousand feet. You run out of breath after just walking in a straight line.” He shook his head. Sasha maintained eye contact as she wrote notes, intently listening.

“My group, we had the most action out of anyone there.”

What was the last of that action, his final mission on deployment, forever changed Sean’s life.

On Friday, October 12, 2012, just about an hour short of being on a plane headed back to the states, Sean had just completed securing a compound’s rooftop with his friend Sergeant Thomas McPherson.

“We had gone after this guy our very first mission. He got away because he went through a mine field. We were going after him for our very last mission,” he tells Sasha.

“We went into this village. There were two buildings in the village that we had seen people going back-and-forth to. There’s usually 60 to 70 of us on any given mission so we split. Main group went to building 1 and I broke off with a smaller group of people, a group of fifteen, to go into building 2. We were halfway done with the mission and were told to get into position on building 2, to secure it, and to make sure people weren’t going to and from the building. We had climbed a ladder to get onto the building. We were on the rooftop that overlooked the courtyard and initially I had been watching a window. The Staff Sergeant had noticed a door and asked me to take watch of it. The team had finally got onto the building when a guy with a machine gun had woken up in the window next to me. I was hit thirteen times in total and my friend next to me only got hit once. He lied and said that he was fine but the bullet had ricocheted off his sling clip and went into his arm. He told the others to go see me since I seemed way worse off. He passed away a couple of minutes later. The first thing I worried about was everyone else on the mission with me. I didn’t know that my sergeant had been wounded or passed away until three or four weeks after.”

Fifteen minutes later, his fellow Rangers had gotten him off the rooftop, given him a morphine lollipop for the pain, and gotten him onto a stretcher, then a medical helicopter where they began performing surgery on him.

Conscious for the transport to the helicopter, Sean didn’t know how badly he had gotten hit. “I just kind of prayed and kept myself as calm as I could. If you breathe more, your blood flows more,” he tells Sasha. That was the last he remembers before being put to sleep.

From Afghanistan, Sean was taken to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Landstuhl, Germany, where they performed a couple of surgeries in attempt to stabilize him for his return to the US. After a few days, he was transported to the Walter Reed Army National Military Medical Center in Maryland where they performed several more surgeries.

When Sean awoke, he couldn’t feel any sensation below his bellybutton and was told he was paralyzed from L5 down. “I remember laying in bed and thinking, ‘Hey, I should be able to move these,’ then really thinking about them, and seeing them not move,” he shares with Sasha as he explains the forced realization of his paralysis. “It wasn’t like I was introduced to all this stuff.”

“I still would have rather had it been me; I didn’t have anything going on,” he tells Sasha of losing his friend Mac. “[His death] hit me more than being injured. The first eight months I was down and depressed about it. Now I go every year to California and visit his wife and kids.”

Just as his mother and friends suggested, Sean has decided to live life to the fullest and in Mac’s honor. Always having loved a challenge, he uses his “handicap” as motivation to simply do and live more.

“I went sky diving, I’ve gone shark fishing, I love golf,” he lists among other activities. He adds that he has plans to attend business school soon so that he can one day open up his own coffee shop or restaurant. 

“I was probably going to make a career in the Army but after getting injured, that changed,” he tells Sasha after she asks what else he sees himself doing in the future. “There are so many people that helped me out that I feel like I should do my part in return to give back. I mean, I just try to help people. I have been through a lot in life, even before the military. So, I’ve always tried just help,” he shares with Sasha. “But, people have to be willing to help themselves,” he adds. 

A little tough love; it seems as though there’s plenty of military left in him after all of these years.

After four weeks in Maryland, he was taken to a VA in Tampa, Florida, for even more surgeries and rehab. 

“Coming from what I was doing and who I was to going through all of these changes, I hadn’t given up but I wasn’t doing anything about my situation,” he describes. “I broke down and cried. It was then that my mom and friends came to me and told me, ‘Mac [Sgt. McPherson] sacrificed and gave his life for you, at least live and honor his sacrifice.’”

It was the reality check that Sean needed and put everything into perspective. 

“I still have arms. I can still talk. I still have a lot. There are people that are way worse off than me and have a positive outlook. So that’s how I’ve been seeing it ever since. I’m still limited to things; I cant get things off the top shelf,” Sean laughs.

After five months in Florida, he continued intensive rehab in Massachusetts. Ultimately, after 15 months bouncing from medical facility to medical facility, countless surgeries, and hours upon hours of rehab, he headed home with his parents to West Haven, Connecticut, who, with the help of local businesses and epic crowdfunding campaign done by theCHIVE, retrofitted their home to best suit Sean and his new lifestyle in a wheelchair. Not long after, thanks to Homes For Our Troops, Sean moved into his own home in 2016 that was designed entirely for him, allowing him to live independently and freely.

“One of the best and biggest things is learning to be adaptable,” he goes on. “Life is not going to stop for you so you always have to change and work with it. The military teaches a lot of situational training and I think America could learn a lot from it. In the military, you’re surrounded by every race and religion. None of that matters, as long as you’re a respectful, good person, you wont have any problems. I think a lot of people are selfish; they don’t have a lot of patience and jump to a lot of conclusions. I learned patience, I learned how to wait really good in the Army,” he laughed. 

To Sean, the military made sense to him, it’s where he fit in. It’s where he first began taking his weaknesses and turning them into strengths.

“One of the strongest themes you’ve been talking about is persistence, dealing with the cards that you’ve been dealt,” she begins. “Other themes that go along with that are perseverance, stubbornness, failure to quit, strong-willed mentality, pride, focus, patience, a competitive nature, and quiet professionalism.” 

She then turns to the page of sketches, “I just sketched some things and I was trying to pull up some symbolism. I began looking at the bald eagle and what that signified.” 

The bald eagle is an extremely skilled predator with keen eyesight. In the United States, it’s become a symbol of strength, freedom, courage, and honor.

Additionally, Sasha showed Sean a sketch of a fist holding a rose, a representation of something strong as well as something soft, representative of a person’s strengths and weaknesses. Sean laughed at the coincidence, “A fist holding a lightning bolt was the symbol for my position as a Forward Observer,” he tells Sasha.

Both keen on how the eagle and the fist symbolize strength, the pair spent the next couple of hours discussing the possible representation of the two in Sean’s story serving and his life since. Held to tremendously high standards, Rangers can be seen as a force of strength within the Army. Yet, it’s the incredibly difficult path of becoming a Ranger that leads them to be seen in that way. This path that turns their world upside-down, that pushes them to their very last limit, and forces them to use every strength that they may have additionally leads Rangers to evaluate their weaknesses. In doing so, they are left with a choice with said weaknesses: to quit or to continue.

Sean chose to continue. Sean still chooses to continue.

“I think people are a lot tougher than they give themselves credit for,” Sean says. “Me? There are three things I’m scared of on this planet: spiders, heights, and my dad.” 

This seems funny to everyone, remembering that Sean has gone and completed Airborne school, which entails jumping out of numerous planes, and has also recently recreationally sky-dived. He seems to pay no attention to his perceived weaknesses.

“Bald eagles fly higher than any other bird,” Sasha says. It’s as though a light-bulb has gone off above her head. 

Taking more time to elaborate on the possibility of an eagle for the design, Sean suggests that the eagle hold a lightning bolt just as the fist from the FO emblem does, to represent his position as the communicator between aircraft and boots on the ground.

“Yeah! I love that!” Sasha responds. “Another thing I thought was cool was that the number thirteen normally means dead or unlucky. Can we skew it in a positive way? That’s what made you better, who you are today. Sure it’s shitty and not ideal but it’s your story,” she adds.

Pulling inspiration from Sean’s tattoos, Sasha adds thirteen rays of light around the eagle’s head, symbolizing the number of times Sean was hit and the day in which he joined the Army.

“Being in a wheelchair,” Sean says, “A lot of people can see that as a weakness, but I’m more positive and can do a lot more than able-bodied people. I had a lot of time to self-reflect after getting injured and having a year to lay around. Being able to know what your weaknesses are and being able to improve as a person, it helps the world around us.”

Piece by piece, the design comes together. Sasha, pulling further inspiration from the Ranger DUI, positioned a sun and a moon on either side of the eagle’s head. The dichotomy of day and night or light and dark additionally represent the choice of persistence and perseverance, of taking advantage of a new day. 

Ultimately, a banner emblematic of the 2nd Battalion’s ribbon presents the powerful statement, “Believe In Your Weakness,” a reminder for all that what makes them human, what they think are their weaknesses, are actually their strengths. They are opportunities to overcome challenges, to improve, and most importantly, they are opportunities to help others.

Thank you, Sean, for leading the way.

To support Sean by purchasing his collaborative “Believe In Your Weakness” design with Sasha, click to visit AlphaIndustries.com.

 TSHIRT: $30.00 

PRINTED IN U.S.A.

Size Shown: Large (Unisex)

 PATCH: $17.00 

MADE IN U.S.A.

Patch Width: 3.50″

 OUR JOURNEY: CONNECTICUT 

We began our time in Connecticut nestled near a beautiful field of sunflowers. Those are words I can’t say I’ve ever expected to type out, but it’s true. Here’s photo-evidence to prove it:

People often ask us about the process of finding places to park the trailer. One of the services we use is called Harvest Hosts, an online directory of wineries, farms, and various other agri-tourism businesses that offer space for RV’ers to “dry camp” for a night, meaning there are no water or electric hookups to plug into.

Our first time using the service was at Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury, located just southeast of Hartford in the middle of Connecticut. 

After parking our little tin can, we moseyed our way across the street to the berry farm. Unfortunately, we were not there during the weekend when they host brunch on their porch overlooking their crops of berries and flowers, but we were happy to snag some blueberries, raspberries, and tomatoes. Nothing tastes better than fresh, local produce, particularly juicy garden tomatoes. Before dinner, I laid down for a little rest while Tyler walked around and snapped some photos as he typically does.

It felt surreal looking through the window across from our bed at the vibrant sunflowers and the blue sky above them, like something out of Wizard of Oz. It is one of my favorite views of the tour.

Yet, for all of the dream-like views we have had, there are just as many views of a Walmart parking lot, but hey, it makes us appreciate the beautiful sceneries that much more.

This is your warning of an extensive (but interesting!) personal research project I’ve been doing the last several months. Skip ahead if you don’t want to read it!

Before we left on the tour I began ancestry research on my father’s mother’s side of the family. This may be a bit difficult to explain, but my father’s maternal lineage is Clapp… and his paternal lineage is… also Clapp… yes, that sounds a bit incest-y but I’m relieved to tell you it’s NOT. Maternally, the Clapp family is English and on the paternal side of the family, “Clapp” was Dutch and originally spelled “Klap.”

When it comes to my grandmother’s side of the family, not much is known about her mother, my great-grandmother, whose maiden name was Clapp. Being a curious person, I did some research to find out that she was from Connecticut and had tragically lost her parents and a sibling within a couple of years. An orphan by the age of 14, she went to work in a button factory in Massachusetts where she would eventually meet my great-grandfather. I was able to find census records of her living at a boarding house where she lived with several other textile factory laborers, however, I couldn’t find much about her childhood in Hartford, Connecticut, including information about my great-great grandparents.

Dissatisfied with the abrupt wall I reached online, I decided that I would visit the Hartford town hall when in Connecticut.

My desire to do so was further fueled when I came across the plaque for Captain Roger Clapp while walking around Boston, leading me to suspect that I was related to him in some way. Online there was a handy resource on Google Books dedicated to the Clapp family in the colonial era that recorded the lineage of Roger Clapp. With one of his grandsons moving to Connecticut, I felt an even stronger inclination that we could be related, but I couldn’t connect it to my family’s records I discovered online. There was a gap of about one hundred years (1800s) that could potentially be filled with multiple generations (people had babies young back then!).

After emailing the town hall and setting up a time to access their public records, the day I’d been waiting for finally arrived: investigation day!

So there I was, totally oblivious to how or what to do in this room of books filled with yellow-tinted pages, aged from sitting on dusty shelves for years. Probably noticing how lost I looked, a very frazzled man approached me offering to help, except that it wasn’t exactly an offer but more so abruptly telling me what to do. A little put off by his abrasiveness, I decided to look past it and listen to the guy. He was the only person in the room so this was all the help I got. I told him the names I was looking for, the years they were alive, and where I thought they had lived in the area. After pulling out several books dedicated to land records at the time, we set out scanning the pages for “Clapp.” 

The whole process was incredibly exciting, even if I was standing in room poorly lit with fluorescent lights and next to a grumpy man that smelled like stale cigarettes. It wasn’t as nice as Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. but I’ll take it! I was pulling my sleeves up and ready to do some digging.

If you’ve never looked through official or family records from the 1800s and early 1900s, they recorded many things by hand, tiny cursive handwriting, specifically.

Not recognizing any of the names I was reading and starting to wonder if I was actually understanding what I was reading, I switched to looking through the Land Grantor’s record book. Great news- the records were typed! Hallelujah! 

After a little while, I was further confused as I came across a Mary Clapp (yay!), except for the middle initial was an F instead of a J (boo!). Was this just a mistake? Did someone read someone’s signature and record it wrong? Finally, after cross referencing with a different year’s recordings, I came across information that connected Mary F and Mary J and it suddenly dawned on me that they were different people but from the same family.  They were different generations! In fact, Mary F was Mary J’s mother-in-law. Holy cow; why did they call everyone Mary back then?! Once things began falling into place, I began recognizing more and more names. I think I had found the gap, the gap between Captain Roger Clapp’s family lineage and mine! I thanked the man for his help, wrote everything down, took photos, and raced home to piece the puzzle together.

Sure enough, thirteen generations after Captain Roger Clapp, here I am, a descendent of a Puritan that had sailed on the John & Mary boat in 1630, landing in Massachusetts. I don’t think my Puritan ancestor would have appreciated this but, HO-LY SH*T! Incredible right? I couldn’t believe I had done it. Although a little past his bed time, I called my dad to tell him the news. Hearing him laugh in disbelief and wonder was the best part of the entire experience.

On a different day we visited our Connecticut Veteran, Sean Pesce. We were introduced to Sean by Andy Biggs, Founder of Boston’s Wounded Vet Run (who also helped us find our Massachusetts veteran) and although the CT project would be conducted in NYC the next month in partnership with MTV, we wanted to meet Sean and Titan, his puppy-in-training, while we were in Connecticut.

After picking up a few Subway sandwiches on the way, we headed to his new house in Bethany that he had recently moved thanks to the Homes For Our Troops organization. A Special Ops Ranger in the Army, Sean shared with us his story of enlisting, the rigors of bootcamp, his injury during the last mission of his deployment in Afghanistan in 2012 over the subs in his dining room still full of moving boxes.

He was incredibly down-to-earth and welcoming which got us excited for his Connecticut project. 

Full disclosure: we actually had a very difficult time planning the Connecticut project. We didn’t have as much help on the ground as we have had in other states with AIGA chapters, so we were trying to email and cold call any local potential partners and participants, even including ESPN whose headquarters were just down the road from where we were staying at Bear Creek Campground.

No matter how hard we tried, nothing was coming together. Then we heard from Rich Tu, who was our designer in the Oregon state pilot project in January 2017. He was a designer at Nike then but had since accepted a new position as the VP of Design at MTV in nearby New York City. Rich loved participating in the Oregon project so much that he really wanted to figure out a way to enable one of his designers to also help share a Veteran’s story, so we were extremely excited to be partnering Sean with an MTV designer in an extra special project that would be hosted at the MTV creative studio office in NYC.

But until then, we had a few more days left in Connecticut, so not far from Sean’s home, we went to visit the Yale campus in New Haven. It was the last week of August and there was new-semester excitement and jitters in the air.

It’s actually mind-boggling how old Yale is. It was founded in 1701! That’s crazy-old. After grabbing a Starbucks and walking around Connecticut’s version of Hogwarts for a while, checking out the quads, statues, and crazy arches on buildings, we popped into the Yale University Art Gallery.

My favorite part of the gallery was this stunning hall lined with tall paneled windows letting light pour onto their antiquities collection. The visit was a nice little reminder that humans have been making impeccable art for thousands of years and that this tour of sharing Veterans’ stories through art and design is a part of that historical legacy. Cool, right?

We ended our collegiate visit with a stop for ice cream at Arethusa, apparently a staple of a Yale experience, that turned out to be your standard old-school ice cream shop with a strong scent of warm dairy before we enjoyed a sunset drive back to our campground. 

Another highlight of our stay in Connecticut was my drastic hair change. I’ve always wanted to cut my hair short so I decided, what better time than now when I’m living in a trailer with, at times limited amounts of water and electricity (think blow dryer). After all, hair grows back so try something new!

My entire life people have told me not to cut my hair because the curls are great, the volume, the color, etc. and I don’t mean to complain about compliments but there comes a time where you have to ignore all of the little comments, no matter good or bad, and establish ownership over yourself. Cutting it all off was extremely liberating and was a step in the process of me realizing that I’m more than my physical appearance and curly hair.

While heading out of Connecticut, we swung by the The Institute for American Indian Studies Museum & Research Center where we had an enlightening experience learning about the east coast’s Native communities and cultures.

Darlene, who was in the process of becoming a storyteller of her tribe, a role that involves memorizing and reciting 90 stories, gave a presentation on the Native cultures of Connecticut’s River tribes such as the Mashantucket Pequot, Paugussett, and Mohegan tribes.

We learned about how they grew crops in threes: squash, corn, and beans so that the soil stayed fertilized, the familial roles within tribes, and tools they used for hunting.

After going through their exhibits, Tyler and I hiked along their trail going through the woods, swatting off late-summer mosquitos left and right, and walked through the replica village that they built according to traditions.

Finding little gems like this is one of my favorite parts of traveling all over the country.