Look Up, Lean into it, and Keep the Form.


The Summer I turned 22, I interned for the North Dakota Extension Service working mainly with ND 4-H Camps in Washburn, ND. My primary responsibility as an intern was to assess and offer sustainable alternatives to how the property was being managed. To do so required me to immerse myself at camp.

An interesting fact about Washburn, ND is that it is home to one of the last high dive boards in the state. Once or twice per week, the whole camp would travel to this pool for an afternoon of fun. My first time that summer, as I walked onto the pool deck, I saw children performing back-flips and other acrobatics off the high dive. I immediately knew my challenge for the day: Learn how and execute a back-flip from that height.

I made my way to the diving side of the pool and asked a young swimmer named Jake what it takes to back-flip off the big board. He replied nonchalantly: “Oh! That? You just back-flip!” I was amused with the lack of instruction, so I helped him to break it down.

Me: “Jake, what’s the very first thing you do when on the board and about to back-flip?”

Jake: “Look up.”

Me: “Okay, once I’m looking up, what comes next?”

Jake: “Lean back.”

Me: “Good, what’s the last part?”

Jake: “Keep going.”

Me: “Is that all?”

Jake: “Yes!”


I made my way nervously to the board, looked up, leaned back, and promptly freaked out once I was mid-air, resulting in a backward belly-flop. It was painful, and when I exited the pool, Jake was there saying: “You didn’t keep going! You have to keep going or else it’s always like that!” After two more tries, I finally did it! I back-flipped off of the high dive!


As I start my 6th summer with NSLC, I believe that those words still apply to my life and apply to you as well. Look up, lean into it, and keep going. Look up to the new opportunities that you have through the field trips, academics, relationships, and leadership series that are along this path. Take advantage and lean into each of those areas when you are there. Be as present as possible so that you can fully experience each opportunity, and keep going. Some of you will be learning and leading together for the first time away from home, the first time on a plane, or perhaps you are a seasoned travel veteran. In all cases, we come to these 8 days with something to offer and something to learn. I’m excited to work with all of you.


Look up, lean into it, and keep going.


In leadership,

Bill Johnson

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