Tag Archives: Taylor McNair

Taylor McNair: An (Environmental) American In Paris

When 196 nations adopted a groundbreaking climate change accord in France on Saturday, Taylor McNair cheered.

Why not? The Emory University senior has decades of life left, in which to deal with the effects of carbon emissions, rising waters and changing weather.

But the 2012 Staples High School graduate had another reason for elation. He was right there in Paris, as an active participant in the historic conference.

Taylor McNair and a fellow Emory University student, at the Paris climate change conference.

Taylor McNair and a fellow Emory University student, at the Paris climate change conference.

Taylor comes from an environmentally conscious family. His older brother Sanders helped make Wakeman Town Farm a reality. But not until junior year — when Taylor took Mike Aitkenhead’s AP Environmental Studies class — did he get really involved in sustainability and agriculture issues.

Taylor worked at WTF: putting together chicken coops, planting and tending beds. His family signed on to the farm’s CSA (and raised chickens at their Bayberry Lane home). Taylor also volunteered at Earthplace.

He applied to Emory because of its dedication to sustainability — and its business school. Taylor has pursued both interests, as an environmental sciences and business double major.

Paris Climate conference logoLast year, Emory applied for “observer status” at the Paris talks. When they were granted spots for 10 students, the school created a cross-discipline course focused on the upcoming event. Dozens of students applied. Taylor was one of only 20 accepted.

The class spent the fall learning about climate change, preparing for the conference, building websites, writing papers, and figuring out how to bring what they learned back to Emory.

Taylor learned he was one of the 10 school representatives chosen for Paris. Each student prepared an itinerary for the 2-week long event.

As soon as they got there, Taylor tossed his out.

Emory was given 4 special passes to the “Blue Zone” — the area where the nitty-gritty work went on. The group decided to divide the passes up. Two students would use them the 1st week; another 2 the next.

Taylor McNair and fellow Emory students outside Le Bourget hall.

Taylor McNair and fellow Emory students outside Le Bourget hall.

Taylor was chosen for week 1. He spent every day — arriving at 7 a.m., leaving at 9 p.m. — focusing on climate change financing and energy funding.

In Le Bourget — a gigantic converted airport — he observed negotiations. He visited exhibition hall booths. He attended panels and workshops. He networked.

Each day had a different theme: farmers, business, youth.

Taylor took advantage of it all. He went to a discussion for young activists led by Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican woman who led the conference.

Al Gore gave a “down-to-earth” presentation, from which the media was barred. After his opening statement, the former vice president said he just wanted to hear from the attendees. For nearly two hours, they chatted.

Taylor also sat in sessions with French president François Hollande and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. They provided important insights — and urged the students to action.

Taylor describes being inside the Blue Zone as “lots of random, exciting, cool experiences, surrounded by super-committed, passionate people.”

The Westporter spent his 2nd week with the 30,000 or so people doing things outside of the formal events. There was a hub for bloggers and activists; art events, and exhibits where corporations showed what they’re doing to solve climate issues.

A conference sponsored by the International New York Times featured Secretary of State John Kerry, and Google and Facebook executives, in an intimate setting.

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and the New York Times' Thomas Friedman address conference attendees.

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman address conference attendees.

Taylor was impressed and motivated. He’s also realistic.

“No international agreement is perfect,” he says of the final document. “But this is powerful, and as strong as it could be. It’s the 1st-ever universal climate agreement. It won’t save the world from 2-degree change. But it signals a world market shift, and a new way of how we address climate change.”

There were plenty of opinions in Paris. These protesters gathered otuside Notre Dame.

There were plenty of opinions in Paris. These protesters gathered otuside Notre Dame.

Taylor returned to campus on Sunday. The next step is figuring out how to bring specific change to the university.

That’s a tall order. And Taylor still has finals to study for.

With all his classwork — and preparing for Paris — he’s had little time to think about a different kind of future: his own.

“I recognize the role of business. I’d like to be involved in the renewable energy sector,” he says. “It’s the most promising transformation, and it will continue to boom in the US.” He’d also like to work on policy.

When he’s home for winter break, he’ll start interviewing — and narrowing down his options.

With the wind at his back from Paris, he should have many to choose from.

Nature Center Hides In Plain Sight

Add to the many things Westporters don’t know about Sherwood Island State Park — its various beaches, sand dunes and 9/11 Memorial — one more: There’s a Nature Center on site.

A very interesting and comprehensive Nature Center, in fact.

A cooperative effort of the state Department of Environmental Protection and  Friends of Sherwood Island, its now in its 3rd year. A wide variety of displays and exhibits help visitors understand the rich diversity of plant and animal life inhabiting the park.

Few of those visitors are from Westport. For us, Sherwood Island is both out of sight and out of mind.

But a few Staples students find it. They’re interns, working with DEP staff and docents.

Sherwood Island Nature Center intern Taylor McNair shows a snake to visitors. (Photo/Stevie Klein)

Taylor McNair — a June SHS grad headed for Emory University — heard about the Nature Center from his friend Jon Wormser. Jon’s mother is a Friend of Sherwood Island, and Jon has worked there for several years.

Taylor, Jon and the other interns show off animals: turtles, snakes, crabs, snails, lobsters, sea urchins, native fish and many other sea creatures. They explain everything that grows and lives in the marshes and Sound. They help kids enjoy the “touch tank.”

“People think Long Island Sound isn’t very interesting. But it really is,” Taylor says.

One of the many attractions at the Sherwood Island Nature Center.

He’s learned plenty, by reading and listening to the directors and other interns. Some interns are part of the aquaculture project at Trumbull High School’s regional agricultural and biotech magnet school.

Ellie Gilchrist is one of those students. She volunteered at the Nature Center for several years. This year, she’s old enough to be paid.

“I’ve learned about so many creatures in the Sound,” she says. “I also learned to deal with people — naturalists, co-workers, kids and visitors.”

She loves her internship, but wishes there were more bilingual programs. Many visitors speak Spanish.

Taylor, Ellie and the other interns also help out with — and learn from — the free Thursday lecture series. Topics range from raptors to undersea diving.

The Sherwood Island Nature Center.

This Thursday (July 19, 6 p.m.), Marilyn Bakker speaks on the 23-year fight, from 194 to 1937, during which advocates for Connecticut’s 1st state park battled neighboring landowners, real estate developers and the town of Westport.

It’s a little-remembered part of Westport history. Perhaps that story will entice some local residents out to the Sherwood Island.

If they go, odds are good they’ll stay for the bivalves, birds and fascinating beach exhibits.

(The Nature Center is located between East Beach and the salt marsh nature trail. Hours are are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Some of the Sherwood Island Nature Center interns pose with Senator Richard Blumenthal (the only one wearing a tie) and director Rindy Higgins (far right).

Taylor McNair: “Thank You, Veterans”

Each year, a Staples High School student is asked to speak at Westport’s Veterans Day ceremony.

In a town like this — where the military is an afterthought, if thought of at all — finding an appropriate, articulate high school senior is no easy task.

This year, Taylor McNair nailed it.

Here’s his speech, delivered yesterday at Town Hall.

In the fall of 2006, while on leave from Iraq, Private First Class Nick Madaras rounded up as many soccer balls as he could find to bring back for his 2nd tour of duty.  His plan was to distribute the balls to the Iraqi children he had watched day after day.

Unfortunately, he never got the chance.  Nick was killed by an IED shortly after returning to Baqubah, Iraq.

PFC Nick Madaras

Just weeks after hearing of his death, a fellow Wilton citizen and Korean War veteran contacted the Madaras family in hopes of maintaining Nick’s legacy, and more importantly, fulfilling Nick’s desire to do good.  From this, the “Kick for Nick” organization was born: an initiative based in Wilton that collects and ships balls to children in Iraq and Afghanistan, for distribution by U.S. soldiers.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Nick.  I did, however, have the pleasure of fulfilling his one wish.  Three years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, Staples soccer coach Dan Woog approached my older brother, then a senior, and asked if he would organize a “Kick for Nick” drive.

I remember sitting in my basement, deflating hundreds of soccer balls and inscribing “PFC Nick Madaras” on each one.  Yet it wasn’t until just recently, after meeting with Nick’s dad Bill to drop off the soccer balls from another successful drive this year, that I realized the power of those words.

I don’t know many veterans.  So when assistant principal Rich Franzis, an Iraq War veteran himself, asked if I would be interested in giving this speech today, I was honored yet hesitant.  My connection to this country’s servicemen and women was distant, to say the least.

I thought long and hard about the kind of sentiments a 17-year-old kid from Westport would have about Veterans Day.  My grandfathers and uncles didn’t fight in any wars; my friends have shown no interest in enlisting in the military. Yet my mind continued to bounce back to the recent “Kick for Nick drive.”  As it turns out, you don’t need to know a veteran to appreciate this special day.

And so I return to the power of those few words: a simple class rank, PFC, and the name of a fallen soldier, Nick Madaras.  Each and every ball a child receives is etched with this name, which serves as a constant reminder of what the United States military, of what you, have done for the world.  Each time a child touches a soccer ball, and his or her face glows with happiness, we can take pride in the fact that a U.S. soldier created that smile.

Taylor McNair (right) with Bill Madaras, after presenting 150 soccer balls from this year's "Kick for Nick" drive.

In 2008, ESPN did a story on PFC Nick Madaras.  Among the hundreds of comments on their web page, one stands out.  The commenter wrote, “I am a 53 year old US Coast Guard veteran, and when I watched this on ESPN I sat and cried for this beautiful family and this beautiful story. That story describes American soldiers so, so well.”

For me, Veterans Day is more than recognizing the sacrifices a soldier must make.  It’s about recognizing the impact that these sacrifices would have.

Nick Madaras sought to make his impact through the fundamental lesson of sharing.  Other soldiers have made their impact through acts of selflessness or gallantry.  The one thing I’ve discovered over these past few years, however, is that it doesn’t matter what kind of impact you made; rather, that you have made an impact at all.

Nick is like so many other veterans around the country. All of you, whether you know it or not, have gone above and beyond the call of duty in so many ways.  For Nick, this meant bringing happiness to the children he interacted with every day in a war-ravaged country.  For others of you, it might have been saving a fellow soldier’s life, or maybe putting your own life on the line to protect the fundamental principles of this nation.

For me, today is about appreciating that impact.

Servicemen and women are a unique group of people.  In almost every case you are heroic yet humble, altruistic but modest.  For generations, Americans have put the very foundation of our country, liberty, in your hands.  And for generations you have answered this call, and done so valiantly, with little recognition.

So today I know I speak for millions of other Americans when I say, thank you. Thank you Nick Madaras, for making this world a happier place by use of a simple soccer ball.

And thank you, all of you, for the often-intangible yet ever-present impacts you have made, not only in this town or this country, but in every corner of the world.

Dozens of flags in the Staples courtyard honored fallen soldiers yesterday. Each bore the name of a fallen soldier from the area -- including Wilfredo Perez of Norwalk (above), and Nick Madaras.

Click below to view Taylor McNair’s speech, as broadcast on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show.  Taylor begins speaking at the 2:20 mark.