Tahoe Expedition Academy Graduate Erica Kennedy Explains What A “Real School” Is in Her Graduation Speech

Some question whether or not Tahoe Expedition Academy is a “real school.” Erica Kennedy, one of our school’s first ever graduates, tackled that perception head on in her graduation speech. Read her speech in its entirety here.

After four years I’m graduating from Tahoe Expedition Academy or as outsiders like to say: Hippie School, Camping School, and Hiking School. Or Do You Even Go to School, school. Well, they’re not wrong. I’ve also been told from time to time “You don’t go to ‘real’ school.” Which begs the question what is “real” school? Is real school sitting at a desk and reading an article on the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece? Or is real school organizing a service trip to Greece where students immerse themselves in a community and culture at a refugee camp? Correct me if I’m wrong but the latter sounds much more “real” to me. And while I can’t deny that yes, we do go camping at this school, and we do travel the world in search of extraordinary learning opportunities, we are very much a “real” school.

When people say that TEA isn’t real, I can’t help but be offended no matter how hard I try because TEA is truly a part of me and in that way plays a huge role in who I am as a human, and a learner.

So, in order to describe who I am, I am going to describe what makes TEA a real school.

What makes TEA a “real” school?

TEA allowed me to find my voice as a woman and advocate alongside the best role models a girl can ask for, in my teachers Anne and Mara. That makes TEA a “real” school.

TEA allowed me to discover a passion for film and allowed me to pursue this passion as not only an art form but also a medium of self-expression and activism. That makes TEA a “real” school.

TEA supported me in my ski-racing career. I traveled all over- from Switzerland to Minnesota, to Canada all while having the constant support of my teachers and peers. That makes TEA a “real” school.


TEA introduced me to one of the greatest minds I’ve yet to cross paths with, my teacher Laird, who allowed me to acquire a greater sense of self than any “fake” school ever could have.

One of the most miraculous things about TEA is how it somehow creates artists. When I came to this school I was an athlete first. I think most of my life my most defining characteristic was that I skied. I know that’s what I was in middle school and most of high school. “The girl who never came to school and was always skiing.” Not going to lie, the main reason I came to this school was its adventure pillar and its relevance to my ski-racing career. But now four years later I’m leaving this school, not an athlete, but an artist. I had opportunities to ski at a D1 level in college. But TEA sparked a passion for film and art in me much stronger than my desire to ski. Where this came from I still don’t know but I know it wouldn’t have been possible without TEA. Perhaps there is a fourth pillar hiding among Adventure, Academics, and Character: and it is Art.

Try not to cringe too hard but to use some Taylor Simmers vocabulary, who made all of my very “real” experiences at TEA possible, I didn’t just survive at TEA I thrived and will continue to thrive through all aspects of life thanks to this truly extraordinary and “real” school.