By Briana Wheeler
Fledgling rays of light filter through one of McClurg’s much-coveted bow windows and alight on Ellie Clark (C’18). Having recently passed her comprehensive exams in January, the culmination of Clark’s Sewanee experience surmounts the fog-encased horizon.
An integral member of the campus community, Clark delights in many passions. She has always enjoyed dancing and demonstrates her dedication to the art by serving as the president of Perpetual Motion and is a member of the step team. Her position as a lead proctor, a job which requires constant attention, exhibits the immense compassion she shows towards others. She is hopeful that her impending degree in Ecology-Biology will help her achieve the one dream that’s stuck around: “I want to be a veterinarian. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Clark explained that her introduction to the major, arguably an unavoidable event, occurred quite by accident. “When I was a sophomore, I missed the information session for the Island Ecology Program, so I emailed Dr. Zigler and asked if I could come into his office and learn more about it. Then I told him that I was pre-med, a biology major maybe, but as a sophomore I hadn’t declared yet. And then he gave me the sheets for the biology major and the eco-bio major.”
According to Clark, she learned very quickly that to succeed in the major, “You have to be comfortable getting dirty. You have to be comfortable dipping into lakes.” She laughed before clarifying, “I mean, obviously they won’t make you go snorkeling in the lakes or anything because that would be gross, but just going head-first into field work. Field work is fun.”
Clark continued to comment on the ecology-biology major’s applicability as a whole to her future veterinarian career. “It’s given me a broader understanding of how animals and organisms interact with each other and their environment outside of just cats and dogs, which is what made me want to be a vet. So now I can kind of look at the bigger picture of animals in their environment rather than just with humans.”
She illustrated the tight-knit nature of the major’s community. “We have a lot of really cool professors, and our major is pretty small. I think there are eight or nine of us, so we’ve all been in classes together or some of us did the island ecology trip together, so it’s been pretty fun,” she said.
The close community has provided support in more ways than Clark could ever have anticipated. Earlier this year, Clark and her family experienced tragedy when her beloved father, Travis Clark, unexpectedly passed away. The encouragement from relationships she spent four years building established her faith in a locality’s ability to help its individuals heal.
“Sewanee really came through for me; my Sewanee family just really showed up and showed out. You always hear about the Sewanee community being super special and super great, and I knew that. I knew that all of my first three years. But it just took on a greater meaning because I really just experienced it in its fullness,” Clark said.
She added, “I had professors asking me to come over for dinner, offering their house to me if I needed it or if my mom ever needed it. I had professors who were super understanding. My advisor said that he would go bark at any professor who wouldn’t give me an extension.
“That was really comforting and made me want to come back. Because there were definitely times when I didn’t want to come back just because I didn’t want to finish the year,” Clark concluded.
Faced with the question of whether a phoenix rising from the ashes is a proper comparison, Clark’s grin returned as she responded, “Maybe. I don’t know. I still don’t know that I would say I feel stronger yet, just because every day it’s still hard. But I do feel stronger because of my Sewanee family. If I didn’t have that, there’s no way I could have finished last semester or started this semester.”
Clark’s decision to return to Sewanee in full force to successfully complete the major that fuels her long-held dream authors an influential statement “that [anything is] possible, and that it’s worth it to power through” even the most merciless of times.