When we met Andrew O’Neill at the Congressional Award Gold Ceremony in 2014, we were impressed by what he had accomplished to earn his Gold Medal and were interested in learning more about him. Inspired by combining technology and outdoor leadership, Andrew attended Green Mountain College and majored in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management.
Andrew has put to good use the skills he’s learned in various endeavors, whether he’s building websites and creating a food program, working as a camp manager, editing videos, or learning a new language. Andrew’s curiosity is limitless, and he explores his interests and follows his heart. Read on to learn more about the different projects Andrew is involved in, his top three tips for learning a new language, and the advice he’d give his younger self.
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?
Andrew O’Neill: Young adults have a tendency to be afraid to dream big. Seizing your youth means taking chances toward your current dreams at any age.
CJ: You double majored in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management (YDCM) at Green Mountain College. How did you decide what to study?
AO: I took a two week-long canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness, and I thought it would be cool to follow a career path similar to the guides on that trip. At the time, I knew I was highly interested in the realm of technology and computers as a potential career, but I did not like the thought of being stuck inside all the time at a computer. I was inspired by the life that the guides on the canoe trip enjoyed that I looked into schools that specialized in outdoor leadership.
CJ: What cause or issue do you care greatly about and why?
AO: I have strong feelings towards the practice of factory farming. As a lifelong vegetarian, I have continued to learn and become more passionate about the abuse of farm animals at these farms and the negative health and environmental issues that this practice is causing on the planet. The way we are treating the animals that we are eating, which we should not be at all in my opinion, has a direct influence on how we are treating each other as humans. I believe that the brutality of factory farm operations correlates to why there are so many horrible acts of war currently happening in our society. I am extremely passionate about this subject and have created a website, ameatfreemonth.org, which aims to provide anyone with a free healthy 30 day vegan eating program to help steer them away from the addictions of eating animal products.
CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2014. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
AO: My mother, who has been a long-time Girl Scout troop leader and an all around incredible person, found out about this program through a student she worked with at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. Within less than a year, I had signed up and was already working toward the Bronze Certificate. Earning this medal has made me realize that I will always be interested in learning new skills and to never stop challenging myself. Participating in all four program areas has helped me to become a well-rounded person excited to guide future youth through the program.
CJ: That’s awesome! We completely agree and support the learning of new skills. You have been a camp counselor and camp manager at Hawthorne Valley Farm Camp – what did you learn from those experiences?
AO: As a camp counselor, I learned about the psychological and social challenges that can arise while working with youth. Often, I was around campers all day and even when exhausted, had to be careful with my words and actions so that I could set a good example for the campers to look up to. The following year, as a camp manager, I was pushed into new challenging roles that helped me to understand the different aspects of running a camp. The camp director was new the year I managed, so I was placed in a more challenging role being a support to the director. In this higher role, I wrote and submitted our entire camp safety manual, created a new scheduling system for the camp that I used to create the actual camp schedules each week. Additionally, I started and maintained a camp newsletter, served as a primary contact for parents during camp, and compiled a camp recipe book that has been in high demand for many years. Essentially, I now feel I have gained the skills necessary to open a camp of my own.
CJ: You are passionate about video editing and have produced promotional videos for a 3D printing shop in Vermont. What sparked this passion and how did you learn video editing skills?
AO: My passion for video editing goes back to when I was a kid. It all started when I was able to buy my first video camera and connect it to my father’s laptop. Around my senior year in high school, my parents gave me a Cannon HD camcorder, and my uncle bought me a laptop for college. This enabled me to begin working on small projects that explored new ways to edit videos. Ever since this experience, I have taken on more challenging projects that have pushed me to expand my editing skills. All of my video editing skills have been self-taught and all from the small and large projects I have completed over the years.
CJ: You taught yourself how to speak Spanish. What are your top three tips for learning a new language? Is there another language you plan on learning?
- Immerse yourself in a country where they only speak the language you are trying to learn.
- Read news articles or listen to songs of interest in the language.
- Most importantly, be consistent!
I do plan on learning Japanese and already have a computer program called Human Japanese that I plan on using.
CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?
AO: I am working on improving my health by transitioning to a totally raw mostly fruit diet and practicing regular yoga. Additionally, I am reading books about the fruitarian diet, and journaling everyday to help myself reflect on my day-to-day life.
CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?
AO: My trick is simple, I rely heavily on my ability to be optimistic and always be able to find the positive in any situation. Almost always I am able to pause and just do a simple reflection and feel better. Additionally, I will find myself eating something special that I don’t always eat, but that is still in line with my diet.
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
AO: There is no time like now to do whatever your heart desires. Answers and opportunities can often be found simply by networking. Every person is a human so don’t be afraid to interact, reach out, and make new connections.
Image: Andrew O’Neill