Mountains have shaped my life. On a trip to Washington State as a high-school student, I visited Mount Rainier; years later that mountain and its inspiring presence on our campus horizon helped draw me back to the Northwest.
Recently I encountered Maurice Herzog’s controversial Annapurna (1951), which presents his version of the first ascent of the Himalayan mountain. My time as a university chaplain has indelibly linked higher education with the high places of the world, and Annapurna became not a distant adventure but a lens through which to consider our educational enterprise.
While we have to locate Mr. Herzog’s voice within elite European society and be aware that some have challenged his writing as self-centered, the mutual care and dedication of the climbers is indisputable. Ultimately it was each person’s commitment to the good of the whole that allowed two climbers to reach the summit of Annapurna, while others preserved their strength to help them off the mountain.
Many of us are privileged to be part of campus communities that strive for the heights, despite turbulent times. However, like the late Mr. Herzog, we are limited by our contexts, our perspectives, and our personal narratives. Our strength is in making ours a collective effort, employing diverse skills, commitments, and experiences. Through Annapurna, I am reminded of the waste that comes with singular self-interest, and I am pressed to reconsider how we can best come together on the ground, while our students climb to the summit.