PINEDALE – The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “commitment” as a desire to give one’s time and energy to a job, activity or something you believe in.
Pinedale High School senior Zoe Griffin embodies the true meaning of commitment when it comes to her passions – music and agriculture. Griffin spent countless hours over the years learning the French horn and raising and showing livestock through 4-H.
Griffin’s efforts paid off. The senior went through the grueling audition process and made it into the All-State band four years in a row on an instrument that is particularly hard to master.
“Once you get good at it, it’s so much fun and there are so many beautiful things that you can do with it,” she said.
Raising and showing animals in 4-H launched Griffin on a journey across the region, from the local county fair to the Northern International Livestock Exposition in Billings, Mont. and the America Royal Livestock Show in Kansas City, Mo.
“I would not be the person I am today without the 4-H and FFA,” Griffin said. “They’ve made me a better leader, a better person, a better agriculturalist. I found my passion for animals through 4-H.”
Griffin applied her passions to achieve one of the highest honors given to high school students, the Gold Medal Congressional Award. The Gold Medal is the culminating prize in a series of certificates and medals that take years to accomplish. Griffin is the first student at Pinedale High School to earn the Gold Medal.
The Gold Medal requires an enormous investment in time and energy. Griffin said that commitment, the desire to give so much to something that she believes in, kept her going.
“I get to do the things I love,” Griffin said. “Agriculture has always been important to me, as has music, and those two things were very big components of this Congressional Award. Just being able to do things I love – it doesn’t feel like I’m doing all the hours when I’m helping other people, mentoring younger kids and practicing my music.”
During a ceremony at the Cheyenne Civic Center on April 18, Griffin received the Gold Medal Congressional Award in person from Wyoming’s congressional delegation – Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Liz Cheney.
“It was such an honor,” Griffin said. “It was a surreal experience. I’ve put so much time and work – several years of work – into this award. So it’s really, really exciting and deeply humbling to receive this medal.”
Taking the hard road
Griffin learned about the Congressional Award in a freshman orientation course taught by PHS social studies teacher Rose Robertson. Robertson encouraged all her students to enter the program. Only three students in the class, including Griffin, stuck with the process.
Robertson served as Griffin’s advisor.
“Mrs. Robertson was very, very helpful throughout the entire process and kept me on track, got everything signed off for me in a timely manner, made sure I was tracking my hours within my goal, and making sure I got everything submitted to the state office.”
To earn the Gold Medal, a student must put in 400 hours of community service, 200 hours of physical fitness, plan a five-day, four-night expedition and earn 200 hours of personal development. Griffin explained that personal development can be any activity that “makes you a more well-rounded person” from the arts to a part-time job.
“The award is about recognizing kids for a diverse group of activities,” Griffin said.
Griffin chose the arts, in the form of the French horn, to fill out most of her personal development hours. Making the All-State stage each year of high school is a major accomplishment.
This year, due to public health restrictions, All-State was held virtually, an experience Griffin described as “a whole new thing.”
Technicians worked with musicians scattered across Wyoming to record each individual student playing their instrument in concert attire, then made audio recordings for each song and layered everything together, Griffin explained.
Griffin earned additional personal development hours in her role as an intern for the Sublette County 4-H Office the summer following her freshman year.
Organizations like 4-H and FFA provide ample opportunity for community service. Griffin highlighted projects such as the Share the Love Food Drive, Treats for Troops and teaming up with the Sage and Snow Garden Club to plant flowers in containers around Pinedale.
Treats for Troops involved sending care packages to men and women serving overseas.
“Around Christmas, all of the 4-H clubs come together and we bring cookies and essential items like toothbrushes and toothpaste and we vacuum-pack them and send them off,” she said. “It’s just a little way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re thinking of you, Happy Holidays and thank you for your service.”
Griffin joined the cheerleading team to tally up her physical fitness hours and planned the family trip to the county fair for her expedition.
Organizing the trip turned out to be more than Griffin expected, involving prepackaging animal feed, making sure the animals were fed at the right times, setting up pens and staying on top of a daunting schedule.
Leading into the future with compassion
A large part of Griffin’s work toward the Congressional Award involved leadership. Griffin is a member of the 4-H State Leadership Team and spent time mentoring young people in that role.
“The younger 4-Hers have that spark for whatever specific thing it is that they love,” Griffin said. “It’s exciting and endearing to see that and fuel that passion for them so that they continue to grow.”
Another project Griffin became involved in was Fishing for the Fight, a local nonprofit organized by Chauncey Goodrich. Griffin helped plan the annual banquet to raise money for Sublette County residents fighting cancer.
Fishing for the Fight brought Griffin up close and personal with cancer, a disease Griffin had little experience with before her volunteer work.
“I think being able to give back to my community has humbled me a lot and made me a better person,” she said. “It’s given me perspective into what other people are going through – the unthinkable, cancer, the disease people are battling.”
Fishing for the Fight and other projects taught Griffin crucial skills that will carry over to college and the workplace. Working toward the award also taught Griffin compassion – a skill she plans to apply to a career as a veterinarian.
“I’ve learned a lot of empathy for other people,” she said. “People form these connections with animals that are so special, so it’s really important to be able to understand what people are going through.”
In addition to the activities listed above, Griffin is a member of the National Honor Society, acted in last year’s play “Radium Girls” and landed the lead role as Wednesday Addams in this year’s “The Addams Family: A New Musical.”
Following graduation, Griffin will attend Rice University in Houston, Texas where she plans to major in bioscience with an emphasis on genetics and cell biology to prepare for veterinary school.
Griffin has every intention of continuing her passions in college – playing for the Marching Owl Band, or “MOB,” and helping young people in local livestock shows.
Griffin gave a shoutout to Robertson, Goodrich, her parents, former 4-H educator Robin Schamber, current 4-H educator Jennifer Matosky, former FFA advisor Colby Hales and her peers.
“All of my friends who have been there with me through all of these experiences – you guys are fantastic,” she said.