A wild trail of passions

Vandegrift alumnus focuses future on environmental change


Submitted by Alec McKeand

Alec McKeand hikes in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming in 2019.

Claire Janson, Staff Reporter

Though his plans for college pointed towards soccer and graphic design, Vandegrift Alumni Alec McKeand knew his calling for nature, photography and human psychology outweighed his past interests.  


“I chose Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. and attempted to pin down my future.”


Though McKeand went and planned on playing soccer at Fort Lewis, those goals changed as well.


“I met with the coach of the soccer team and after discussing intentions, expectations and commitment, I opted to drop that dream,” McKeand said.


Though one of his biggest goals for college did not turn out as planned, his passion for photography continued. 


“I fully intended to study graphic design and photography by the time I moved to Durango,” McKeand said. “It was how I spent my waking hours the past three years when not focusing on soccer.” 


McKeand soon came to realize the path he was on wasn’t feeding his true passions the way he had hoped. A meaningful encounter with another photographer, photography he had been following a few years prior, focused his attention on other things. 


“I met a woman named Austin shortly after moving,” McKeand said. “She was a wilderness therapist; taking troubled youth out into the high desert of Colorado and Utah to live in teepees for weeks on end to work towards mending scars in their lives.” 


McKeand considered Austin to be a very important role model who was a friend and mentor to many of the youth she helped. She urged him to pursue his callings and Mckeand was able to realize the potential he had. 


“We sat for hours one evening eating pizza, as she told me stories of her past and present life,” McKeand said. “I’ve always had a deep affection for the intricacies of what it means to be human. My focus swiftly shifted to social psychology. I wanted to be like Austin.”


After graduating from Vandegrift in 2014, McKeand soon realized his motivation for his art was solely based on being outside, experiencing nature in order to work progressively. 


“I’m not sure I understood the immense mental and physical importance of being outside back in 2014,” McKeand said. “It was a place to be when I wasn’t inside, doing work or making my art. I now realize that I can’t function to my full potential if I’m not outside.”


McKeand made it clear that for him to connect with the people around him and create his best work, nature is the key.


“I see my future being more intimate still with things not man made, because if I’m going to spend my days earning the money that affords me the lifestyle I’d like to have, then why not make it outside,” McKeand said. “The more I care, the better the work I’ll do.”


Though his passions led him into the wilderness, McKeand’s future still contains questions he hopes to answer in the future. As he continues through his career, McKeand has developed an intense love/hate relationship with photography. It is humiliating, contradictory and mostly completely unfulfilling at times.


“With that being said, I get to live in a place I wouldn’t trade for anything, spend my days outside, choose my own schedule and be my own boss,” McKeand said. “I feel lucky to have formed relationships with companies in the outdoor gear industry that believe in what I do and pay me to do it.”


Focusing on his future, McKeand hopes to take up more traveling alongside writing to develop a more intense relationship with his work.


“My thought right now is to continue to pursue the broad knowledge of ecology,” McKeand said. “Within that, my interests run deep, so narrowing down a singular focus could be difficult.” 


Even so, McKeand’s goals are in place as he continues to discover what he needs to do for the world. 


“I see fungi, climate change and land conservation taking precedent at the moment, all surprisingly closely related,” McKeand said. 


From mornings to evenings, McKeand surrounds himself with nature by taking walks to watch the sunrise and ending the day by concentrating on his projects. 


“There’s a trail ten steps out my back door, so I like to walk up the hill, drink coffee and watch the sunrise on the mountains,” McKeand said. “It’s such a treat, so I try not to miss a single one. I’m happiest when nurturing my need for intimacy with the land.”