Trip Finder

Why We Lead: To Connect

May 9, 2019
Africa hiking on Moondance

This week’s “Why We Lead” feature comes from second year Moondance leader Mary Ottley. Starting her leading career with Kilimanjaro and heading to the Dolomites this summer, Mary jumped into Moondance head first and can’t wait to come back.


Why me? Why Moondance? Why lead? About a hundred responses to these three questions come to mind when I think about them. Yet each and every one centers around people. It’s easy to scroll through the Moondance Instagram feed or website and think that this company is all about adventure, mountains, travel, and experience. While those things do make up a part of Moondance, they do not begin to narrate the full story.


Any Moondance leader or student would tell you that Moondance is more than that which you see on a screen. What makes Moondance unique is what happens amidst those things – amidst the summit bids, the backcountry treks, the service projects. It’soften referred to as “the spirit of Moondance,” but that’s a bit too ambiguous for me. I like to think that what happens during the summer with Moondance is actually pretty simple. And that’s because, to me, Moondance is, at its core, about people. It’s about courage, compassion, and cultivating leaders. Moondance is about growth.


This growth can be seen in the macro – the collective effort put forth as we make a bid for the summit of Kilimanjaro or the number of trees planted at our community service site – but it is, more powerfully, seen in the micro. It is seen in the student who takes the time to go out of her way to practice Leave No Trace when it’s easier to leave trash on the trail; it is seen in the student who asks his peer a compassionate follow-up question during Moonup. I lead for Moondance because during the summer I am able to see teenagers mature into young adults who treat one another with dignity, kindness, humility, and grace.


And the thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that this growth, this continued care for one another is not isolated to summer sessions. It continues in our monthly“Moondance Mentality” emails, the field hockey games I’m able to attend of the former student who lives in my city, the phone calls with students considering gap years before college, the texts exchanged with a student whose parents are getting divorced.


The spirit of Moondance – this prioritization of people over places, experiences, and the tangible – is a manifestation of the people I pray we all become. What a blessing that we are able to call a company that propels us toward growth our “home” for the summers.


It’s easy to see Moondance as an onlooker and feel the pull toward the mountains and the wilderness. It is another thing entirely to know that the people who roam that wilderness with you are more valuable than the time spent outdoors. That is the pull toward Moondance for me. That is why I lead. Of course, the experiences are unparalleled, but uninterrupted time in nature with people who share similar stories,passions, and fears is what sets Moondance apart.


It’s the people who brought me to Moondance in the first place, and it’s the people who keep me coming back. We urge one another to become better versions of ourselves,and I am so thankful to be a Moondance leader.


Mary Ottley