From Sandy Carter:
When I met Caroline Wooten at the very first meeting of Students for a Just and Stable Future (what became UCAN) in September 2010, I had no idea that my life was about to radically change. Over the past year and a half, Caroline has become the “grandmother” to all of us. On behalf of the rest of the members of UCAN, I would like to apologize to you and the other 4th years for not recognizing your achievements and your influence at the end of your time at UChicago. We wish our schedules and our spaciness had not prevented us from saying thank you in the massive exciting spectacular way that you deserved.
Since we can’t go back and throw you that awesome party that you should have had, I will try to make up for it here by singing your praises.
Caroline Wooten is one of those few special people in life who when you meet, you realize you won’t be able to forget her. She lights up the room with her funny jokes, her gorgeous smile, and her awesome guitar. I remember one meeting that first fall, when we were still in that tiny room in the basement of the Reynolds Club, and Caroline pulled out her guitar and convinced us to sing folk songs with her. None of us could really sing, but Caroline didn’t care; and it turned out to be a complete failure. But also wonderful. Especially when followed with the peanut butter pie Caroline always brought for us. Speaking of…Caroline, get back to Chicago! I want some pie!
On a more serious note, Caroline is an amazing organizer and a wonderful friend. She was an instrumental part of founding UCAN and turning it into the group of students that it is today. As if turning UChicago students into activists wasn’t enough, she was also one of the founders of the city wide environmental network we now call CYCC. Caroline has been the environmental activist we all wish we could be. She can make you feel important and like you can make a difference in the world. She has that perfect way of convincing you to do something and stay involved without making it sound like you are signing up for real work. No other student I have ever met can organize people the way Caroline can, and no one can do it while smiling as much as Caroline does.
Caroline has been my mentor and my friend these past years, and I know that without her pushing me and encouraging me I would not be the environmentalist that I am today. I also know that without Caroline, UChicago and UCAN would not be the same either. I’m not sure if UCAN would even exist today without her, and I’m not sure that the fantastic bonds of friendship that have formed among our members would have been forged.
So thank you Caroline. Thank you for teaching us all that we can stand up for the environment and stand up for what we belief in. Thank you for showing us how to beat out the apathy in ourselves and in our fellow students. Thank you for being the positive one when we all have our doubts that we could transition our nation away from fossil fuels.
She’s leaving us now and bringing her guitar and her love of peanut butter to the rest of the world. We hope you are having a wonderful (and fun!) time this summer learning Spanish in Central America. We also offer our congratulations to you for joining the ranks of Green Corps. The communities you will be working are going to be so revolutionized by you! So good luck, Grandmother Caroline! And remember, wherever you go, whatever you do, you have UCAN’s support and love.
From Alicia Klepfer:
The first time I saw Ross, I could only see the back of his head and all I could think was, “…is that Fabio’s hair?” A year later: yes, I realize Ross does have Fabio’s hair. However, Ross is also one of the most amazing people I have met in a long time, so don’t hold the hair against him. I would apologize to Ross as Sandy did to Caroline for not throwing you an epic party, but I’m fairly certain the last month of his 4th year may be a little fuzzy so I’m just going to stick with a story of “sure we had a party! It was that one where you drank so much you fell over!” (One thing I love about Ross: I can make these jokes and he would usually have some witty banter and ideas to throw back at me!)
Ross didn’t get involved with UCAN until the end of his third year, and I think we’ve all taken to shaking our fists at the sky for it. He jumped into just about every campaign we are a part of, most notably taking point on attending Southeast Side meetings and quickly becoming one of their favorite members. Alana and I attended one of their meetings when Ross couldn’t make it, and they basically told us we were inadequate replacements. I wasn’t sure whether to be proud because he was a part of UCAN or incredibly offended. Every protest, every event, and every meeting, Ross was there. Not only did he show up, but he came with a legitimate smile on his face.
Ross contributed greatly to our group as his role of Political Action Coordinator as well. Aside from actually lobbying and setting up meetings with various political figures in Illinois, he organized a training in early May 2012 for other UCAN members to better understand and prepare for lobbying. Need someone to give a 30 second speech to a Senator? Ross is super great at that. (I know, I got to play fake Senator at the training and Ross tried to lobby me.)
Coming into UCAN as a fourth year, he didn’t hesitate even slightly with getting involved in the campaigns against the Fisk and Crawford coal plants. He stood in as “one of forty” killed by the plants every year with other concerned citizens at a City Hall Meeting, following a loud and powerful press conference. Soon after, years of collaboration came together to push the plants to close quickly, and Ross was there with us to see it through. At the party in Pilsen celebrating the victory, Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel showed up to shake hands with everyone (gotta congratulate the people who had enough umph to change policies) and most notably came to tell Ross, “You need to smile more.” As we all hid our margaritas and were twiddling our thumbs like we weren’t underage, I’m pretty sure Ross was hiding his scoffs of laughter.
Although Ross seems like a really nice guy that you want to be your friend, you should also be aware, though, that I’m pretty sure he’s an extreme environmentalist at heart. This past year we were driving to the CYCC Retreat, and as we were talking about Greenpeace demonstrations and other pretty extreme measures, Ross tells us “That would be so cool. I’ve always been attracted to danger.” The car got a little quiet after then, but we were soon howling in the backseat as we planned Ross’s life as an extremist blowing up logging equipment in Brazil. He has shown such dedication to UCAN and I’ve been able to see his passion for our planet in practically every conversation I’ve had with him. Even if he doesn’t become an extremist, environmentalism is already a huge part of Ross’s incredibly admirable life.
We only got a year of Ross’s time, but it was an absolutely fantastic year. The gratitude UCAN owes Ross is immense, and I think words are failing to convey how much appreciation all of us have for him. I can’t even imagine the wonderful things you are going to do in your life, but I hope you’ll keep us posted and still let us creepily admire you from afar. Good luck, and I hope this was able to prove that we love you for more than your car!