Two students take to highway for life experience
By Liz McCarthy, email@example.com, 803-777-2848
Ellie Gray and Emily Andreoli first thought of a cross-country road trip as freshmen roommates in the Honors College Residence Hall during their typical late-night, in-depth life chats.
At first the plan to travel from coast-to-coast (to-coast) was an idea, but this summer Gray and Andreoli are making that dream a reality. In early May the two hit the road in “Stan the van” from Charlotte, N.C. They traveled through Florida to Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and finally reached the Pacific Coast this week.
Andreoli, a junior accounting and sport and entertainment management major, and Gray, a marketing and finance major, have been tracking the trek across the country on a blog – Chasing Pavements – documenting their journey with pictures and videos, and interviewing the people they meet along the way. The posts range from serious, self-reflection to lighthearted bloopers.
“We pulled up to California yesterday and got out to look at the ocean and realized we just went from one ocean to the other,” Gray says. “Sometimes in the middle of an interview, I’ll realize we would never be talking to this person if it wasn’t for this project.”
Andreoli and Gray had both traveled abroad, yet neither had seen the West Coast or the national treasures of their own country.
“Everyone puts an emphasis on study abroad and the international experience – which we agree with -- but there’s so much in America that we have and people take that for granted,” Gray says. “I’m from Chicago and I’ve never been out West. Yesterday was the first time that I got to put my feet in the Pacific Ocean.”
“We wanted to see our own country,” Andreoli says.
Now they have. They’ve had alligator sausage on a stick, hiked the Grand Canyon and met as many new people as they could. The pair even stopped off in Houston, Texas, to meet with Holly Smith, granddaughter of Robert and Janice McNair whose foundation funds their scholarship at USC.
“That was one of our favorite experiences so far,” Andreoli says.
“Yes, she was so sincere and friendly and open to us,” Gray says. “We made a new best friend. There’s no way we would be able to do this without the support of the McNairs. We got to say thank you for being able to have this experience.”
The girls have been crowdsourcing for funds for the trip so people can buy them a tank of gas, a meal or a night in a campground. Along the 7,500-mile trip, they’ve been staying in campgrounds and with families they hardly know through connections at USC.
“Staying with families has been so rewarding,” Gray says. “We’ve stayed with so many different people with so many different far away connections. They’ve never met us, but they were so welcoming.”
These connections have also helped the girls get a different view of the stops along their journey.
“People have been so nice showing us around, sharing their lives and their homes with us,” Andreoli says. “We love that part more than showing up to a city and getting a hotel room. We get a more unique perspective of the city.”
They’ve met artists, flower-hat makers and families. They’ve been on a constant search for wireless Internet to update the blog and upload videos. They’ve played music on the edge of the Grand Canyon. And along the way, they’ve learned a lot about themselves and what they may want to do with their futures.
“We wanted to do something in college that wasn’t just go to college and make friends. We wanted to do something that could potentially make a difference in our lives and hopefully in others’ lives, too,” Andreoli says. “We don’t know where we want to go in life. We don’t know how we’re going to get there, but we’ve tried to think about what success means to us and what we want to get out of our lives.”
Gray and Andreoli hope to use the project and the documentary as a part of their senior thesis for the South Carolina Honors College but that isn’t the whole point of the trip. They say it is an experience they’ll never forget that has changed their outlook on life.
“We’re just so excited about life,” Gray says in one video from the road. “If I ever get down about something, I can just think about this moment right here.”
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