DDCSPers stand outside in archery field, posing and smiling for the photo.

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars 2023 Alumni Homecoming was a space of gratitude, vulnerability, and joy. I was overwhelmed by the love and support from conservation professionals across various fields. We learned from each other through workshops that were both emotional and skill driven. We grieved together, laughed together, and learned so much from one another that we would have otherwise never known had it not been for this meetup. Almost 10 years of our legacy was gathered together in one room. Witnessing the growth and strength of the older cohorts and the newfound passion and excitement of the programs’ most recent alumni was both exhilarating and bittersweet. Learning the program would end after the 2025 cohort brought up so many feelings for me, and a rush of disappointment weighed me down. I felt all this connection and joy would be lost.

I had so many questions. Why would anyone want to end such a beautiful and successful program? Where would all this love and exchange of wisdom go? But most importantly, what is the best way to continue? There were many different emotions being brought up for all of our previous members. As I processed all this information, a sense of disillusion overshadowed by the anxiety of losing our community arose. And, importantly, the fear of losing funding to support students of all backgrounds to pursue their climate justice goals. 

But then I looked around at the community we had created—all the talent and potential in the room. I saw a light. There was so much hope. So many of us were concerned and dedicated to creating a new future for our alumni network post-Doris Duke. Many great things do end, but we are being given an opportunity to continue our legacy in a sustainable way. As many of our cohort members develop their careers and gain more skills, we must develop a plan to combine our skill sets and create a program of our own. With planning, consistency, love, and care, we can move forward and create a new reality for the memories of Doris Duke, that impacted us all so much. Just as the life of the caterpillar ends so that the butterfly can emerge, we now have an opportunity to give new life to the legacy of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. 

For those interested in beginning the plan development process, please email Sydney@elpnet.org to join the Slack channel.

Maria De Jesus (UCSC DDCSP 2019)