Although Elk Creek Ranch helped me gain admission into Cornell University and the Wharton Business School, I hold more value and gratitude for the ranch's influence on my character.
First, I'm not kidding about Cornell and Wharton. My essays and interviews focused on my ranching history. Perhaps cohabitation with grizzly bears while backpacking for a month in the mountains of Wyoming distinguished me from the other applicants. Maybe pictures of the two-story log cabin we constructed from nearby pine trees illustrated perseverance. Or perhaps my inconsistently successful attempts to introduce a rambunctious colt to a saddle (sometimes with me in it) made them smile.
But these are not the influences of Elk Creek on my character that I cherish most. Instead, I look to the camaraderie of a crew that developed another motivation to work hard: one based on shared pride of toiling and trying and pushing together to achieve something tangible, enduring and worthwhile. Building a fence, irrigating a field, loading horses for a pack trip, we did all of these side by side, because there is no other way.
Summers at Elk Creek brought a supervised but unstructured environment in which to develop and maintain friendships with both boys and girls. It is where I learned how to show respect for other people, animals, and the environment because of their inherent worth, as opposed to blind adherence to parental edicts.
Finally, even on the first day of my first summer, Sunlight Basin resonated with me. I now call Wyoming my home, and return to the ranch for a few days every summer to reinvigorate my connection to my friends and idols, the almost impenetrable mountains and seemingly undiscovered creeks, elk and bear, surprise thunder storms and surreal sunsets, a Western heritage that is already part of legends, and is now a part of me.