Author Carine McCandless joins alternative schools in Education as Power event

Author Carine McCandless joins alternative schools in Education as Power event

  • By Tanner Saxton Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25’s New Horizon Center


Road Scholarship



Carine McCandless


Author Carine McCandless speaks at Idaho State University.

Schools as far as Cache County in Utah and Madison County in Idaho braved the roads in the aftermath of Winter Storm Maya to take part in Monday’s Education as Power event, held on the campus of Idaho State University. The event, featuring a keynote address by Carine McCandless, author of “The Wild Truth,” centered on resilience, overcoming adverse childhood experiences, education and the power of creating an authentic life path.

The Education as Power event was made possible by presenting sponsor Portneuf Health Partners representing Portneuf Medical Center. Additional sponsorships were provided by J.R. Simplot Education Council and Idaho State University. All three organizations went above and beyond to create a special event for more than five hundred high school students from southeast Idaho and northern Utah. The event would not have happened without a generous grant from Portneuf Health Partners, which funded the keynote speaker’s honorarium, travel and $3,000 in books, as well as the College of Arts and Letters’ unselfish sponsorship of the venues. On behalf of New Horizon Center and Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25, we extend our gratitude and thanks for the support.

Participants began the day by either taking a tour of ISU or by attending morning workshops at the Pond Student Union. These workshops were put on by Dr. DJ Williams, associate professor of social work at ISU, and Dan Grimes, former elite distance runner who represented the United States in the World Championships of Track and Field in Rome, Italy, in 1987.

Dr. Williams led an interactive presentation where students were challenged to think about leisure activity in the context of mental and physical well-being. Drawing from research on the impact of leisure on human psychology, Dr. Williams outlined how the time we spend doing activities that are enjoyable are related to day to day coping and skill acquisition. Students were given context for the importance of finding balance between leisure and work and were given numerous examples of the biological, physical and mental benefits of healthy leisure practice.

Grimes, who now teaches at Independence Alternative High School in Blackfoot, spoke about the power of breaking the trauma and addiction cycle, while relating his past experiences of growing up in a home of alcoholism and poverty to his journey through collegiate and professional running success. Grimes emphasized the power of choices and illustrated through key principles how he has been able to create a life he loves. Grimes’ own choices, to never use recreational drugs and to become who he wanted to be, were given a powerful space in the presentation. Grimes finished with inspiring words to students, one of seizing opportunities through perseverance and by faithfully working on oneself, emphatically stating that “You are the only one you can control.”

The capstone to the Education as Power event led students to the Stephen’s Performing Arts Center for a rare opportunity to listen to a New York Times best-selling author speak on themes related to domestic violence, family, nature, unexpected opportunities and choosing one’s own path to happiness. Carine McCandless started by asking students if they have one person in their life who truly understands them and asked them to think about who that person is. She connected this to her own relationship with her brother Chris McCandless, whose life and death have since become well known around the world. By sharing a story of enduring domestic violence — and by giving her brother a voice — Carine rendered a picture of personal trauma that was only overcome by Chris and herself through relentless work on themselves. Ultimately, each chose a different yet life-altering path riddled with risk and opportunity.

While Chris’s path led him to embark west and into nature, encountering chance experiences with strangers and new lands, Carine’s road led through countless opportunities in the areas of family, career and relationships. For Carine, her journey of breaking the cycle of abusive relationships was not a clean break from the time she set off on her own. She spoke of unhealthy relationships through her early 20s and the work it took to not be defined by her sometimes tumultuous childhood. Undaunted, Carine took inspiration from her brother’s journey of authenticity by accepting some unexpected and scary opportunities, the most formidable of which was becoming a mother. Carine shared through well-thought out prose, stunning visuals and powerful reading of excerpts from “The Wild Truth” a story of hope and resilience. All in attendance were captivated as Carine shared deeply moving and sometimes tear-invoking stories of abuse as well as joyful moments of family, compassion and lessons learned from children.

The apex of her story came as she shared her journey of adopting her first daughter, Heather, whose biological mother, struggling with substance abuse and addiction, had abandoned her.

She continued her representation of the enigmatic power of family as her next opportunity in life was to bring into the world a new and beautiful challenge, giving birth to her own daughter, Christianna, who has Down’s syndrome. She shared the power of family and how, through her own experiences with her daughters, she has been able to learn more life lessons and have increasing happiness.

Carine finished her message by encouraging the students to pursue their own authentic path in life, regardless of how scary or different it may be. She illustrated the power of “breaking the cycle,” emboldening students to be themselves and to embrace truth. Carine took questions from students in the final 15 minutes and graciously spent time to talk to individual students and adults in attendance after the event. In spite of the fact that Education as Power contrasted to Carine’s typical presentations given to college students, Carine enjoyed the challenge.

“The students were an excellence audience, very attentive and they asked thoughtful questions. It was my pleasure to speak to them,” she said.

When asked if she would speak to a similar population or to high school students she said, “Definitely. It was apparent that many of the students found the content of my presentation relatable. I’m hopeful that the message I shared will remain with them and prove to be helpful.”

Carine was asked what she would say to those who fear that they may fail in taking big risks.

“Failure is often part of success” she said. “I would tell them not to sell themselves short. Prepare and educate yourself for your goals and then push yourself forward, headstrong. You will regret never trying.”

Lastly, Carine’s light-heartedness was reflected as we asked our last question. Since it was her first time to Idaho, we asked her impression of the state.

“Peaceful setting. Hardworking town. Good people. And a lot more snow than Virginia Beach,” she said.

Finally, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Kandy Turley-Ames surprised students by announcing six Road Scholarship winners, who will be attending Idaho State University next year. Recipients of the awards were Amberlee Freeman of Central Alternative High School, Lilliana Riquelme of Jefferson Alternative High School, Keyonna Raburn of American Falls Academy and Alicia Taylor, Celine Jett and John Haight, all of New Horizon Alternative High School.

Schools in attendance included New Horizon Alternative High School, Central Alternative High School, Jefferson Alternative High School, American Falls Academy, Cache Alternative High School, Uinta Academy, Oneida Alternative High School, Clover Creek Alternative High School, and selected students from Pocatello High School and Highland High School. We’d like to thank Carine McCandless, Dr. DJ Williams, Dan Grimes, Road Scholarship donors, including ISU Credit Union, for the opportunities they are creating for youth, Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 for all their support as well as Kent Hobbs, Gretchen Kinghorn, Holly Kartchner, Melissa Lee, Karen Nielson, Amy and Ben Prescott, Miriam Dance, and numerous other unnamed volunteers for all their help in hosting this event.

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