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First Impressions

The Just Do It Issue

In which we examine exploration, and so on.

By Kevin Cool

When we began discussing this issue and how we would assemble a collection of stories around the theme of exploration, one of the topics we, uh, explored, was just how stretchy we would make the theme itself. What constitutes exploration, and what can fairly and appropriately fall beneath this rubric?

Right away, we decided we didn’t want to overemphasize extravagant, potentially death-defying excursions in exotic places, the sort of stereotypical experiences people often associate with exploring. (As Kathy Zonana, ’93, JD ’96, puts it in her hilarious essay on page 74, “I see no need to run 155 miles across the Gobi Desert or jump out of a perfectly serviceable airplane . . .”) 

Not that we don’t admire risk-takers who immerse themselves in grand and spectacular adventures. But in addition to those sorts of stories, we also wanted to examine explorations that expressed the concept in different, and possibly unfamiliar, ways. For example, you might not think of a middle-aged woman who walks her dog every day in the woods near her house as an explorer, but what Mary Jo Hoffman, MS ’89, finds on those walks and then photographs in her home studio is an artistic exploration—finding beauty and wonder in everyday objects. (You can read about Mary Jo on page 68.) 

And when research scientist Eric Horvitz, PhD ’91, MD ’94, harvests data from internet use and teases out insights that can lead to new methods of medical diagnoses, that sounds like exploration to us. (Eric shows up on page 58.)

Elsewhere, there is a geology professor, Dennis Bird, whose fieldwork in Greenland reveals important clues about Earth’s origins—and what not to wear on a windswept ice sheet. There is a volunteer on a research junket in Namibia who learns a lot about elephants—and the indignities of camp life. There are student apprentices, breakout authors, a treasure hunter and the guy who invented the Koosh ball. 

Most of us, I imagine, would like to think we have the Explorer gene, and in one way or another we probably do. Especially if you don’t need seal-fur parkas or malaria medication to qualify. It’s the mindset that matters, right? Sometimes the destination isn’t important; the going is. Just ask famous fictional explorer James T. Kirk. Once, when asked by his navigator, Mr. Sulu, where the Enterprise was headed next, Capt. Kirk contemplated the vast universe beyond and replied, “That way.”

Seems like as good a direction as any.

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