I hope you enjoy this interview written by current student Andrew Ayala with seasoned Pacific Northwest surfer and entrepreneur Gaelen Fechner 95’ as he shares his Evergreen experience and gives some advice to future Greeners. -Katherine
Gaelen Fechner ‘95 lives by the philosophy, “Do what you love.” Gaelen discovered his passion for surfing by age 9 and now lives in Olympia doing exactly what he loves: surfing and shaping surfboards for his company Machine Surfboards. Gaelen also runs the newly opened Fleurae Floral with his business partner, best friend, and love of his life Carissa Rose Dickson. We had the pleasure of meeting with Gaelen to talk about how Evergreen has influenced his life.
Andrew: Think back to Gaelen before college. What were you expecting from Evergreen and what were you planning on doing with your life at that point?
Gaelen: Well, I knew from the very beginning I was going to go to Evergreen, no doubt in my mind. My parents were not the conventional type, they always encouraged me to question everything and to think on a deeper level… to never just accept something for what it is. I didn’t even apply to other colleges. When my parents found out I got into Evergreen they were so excited. I knew exactly what to expect from Evergreen, I knew about the open curriculum and the small classes and my family and I just knew it was a perfect fit. When I went to Evergreen I had no idea what I wanted to do so I just went in with an open mind.
Andrew: How did Evergreen shape you as a person, and how did it prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
Gaelen: Evergreen gave me a model for life, and that model was “learn how to learn.” Evergreen’s open curriculum also taught me how to adapt to life’s changes. While I was at Evergreen I also learned to take risks. How is anybody going to change anything or make things happen without taking risks?
Andrew: Evergreen has a reputation for encouraging cooperation rather than competition. What did you get out of that?
Gaelen: Well, I learned how to communicate and make connections with people. How can you not when you’re in a classroom that only has twenty to forty people in it? This classroom setting really allowed us to learn and exchange knowledge because at the end of the day, we are all different people with different backgrounds and we all have so much to teach each other. Everybody’s insight is valuable.
Another thing is being an artist. The adventure that art can take you on is amazing, you learn about yourself and you get in your zone… but you are by yourself a lot. So the question arises, how do you connect with people and get your art out there? Well, artists depend on each other and on the community to get their work out, and being able to communicate is very important.
Andrew: What were you known for around campus?
Gaelen: Oh the surfer kid definitely! I used to pick classes that started later so I could go surf before class. I remember rushing to class tired and cold. It was great to go to school, do my work, and still be able to do what I love.
Andrew: What was your favorite program?
Gaelen: The Mythic Image, I think it was Gordon Beck that taught that one. We traveled through time and explored Greek mythology and other literature. It was the hardest, but the most rewarding.
Andrew: Is there anybody from Evergreen you would like to thank, anybody that had a profound impact on you?
Gaelen: I would like to thank Mark Papworth. He was a crazy-brilliant human being. He worked on the Evergreen Task Force that helped find the Green River Killer. He was just a body of experience and knowledge. He was also a great storyteller, one of my favorites to listen to. When I started studying surfboard design he was my sponsor and support. Even though it wasn’t in his expertise, he gave me advice and guided me through it.
Andrew: Any advice for future Greeners?
Gaelen: Well I recently met a girl that is going to Evergreen and she said she had no idea if she was doing well or on the right track because she had no grades to look at.
I just asked her, “Are you excited about what you’re doing; are you passionate about your work?”
A grade is just a number.
Evergreen is a place where people look at you as a human being. Your skills and talents are appreciated. Go with it, create your own adventure.
Written by Andrew Ayala