On June 2, 2019, rising Durham Academy senior Jack Linger embarked on a journey to fulfill an inner wanderlust, driven by a sense of purpose. He hit the road after dipping his bike tires in the Pacific Ocean for a solo, 3,500-mile, cross-country bicycle trip from Anacortes, Washington, to Brunswick, Maine, traveling through 11 states and Canada. While Linger’s summer adventure was inspired by his love for nature and the outdoors, it was fueled by a deeper desire to become an informed, responsible citizen as he approached voting age and the opportunity to participate in a national election.
“We have the right to vote,” Linger said in an interview shortly after completing his trip. “It’s an important duty to be an active member in our political environment and even cooler that every vote has the same weight — our political system is a lot fairer because of our right to vote.”
The bike trip also provided the ideal framework for generating material for Linger’s fall independent study project. He conducted interviews with people at various stopping points along his cross-country journey, gaining insight and perspective into what mattered most to his fellow Americans as he formed his own political opinions. Linger shared dispatches from his journey through a blog titled, “America Across the Divides.”
In an interview with WRAL’s Amanda Lamb about a month into his travels, the 17-year-old explained, "The land and what's done with the land around them seems to be at the center of any discussion and argument. I wanted to see my country, our country, before I voted and kind of understand what life is like elsewhere."
The trip pushed Linger outside of his own comfort zone, not only in terms of broadening his worldview through his interviews and interactions with people he met along the way; it was also a lesson in perseverance as he attempted to fulfill a carefully crafted travel plan that had him averaging 50 to 90 miles a day.
After 52 days on the road, Linger ended his journey the way he started it, by dipping his bike tires into the Atlantic Ocean in Brunswick, Maine. He returned home with a new perspective on the world. Tragically, Linger died unexpectedly about three and a half weeks later, just before he would have joined his classmates on their first rite of passage together — Senior Challenge.
In the weeks and months that followed, the DA community came together to support Linger’s family — his mother, Kathleen; his father, John; and his sister and DA eighth-grader Alison. The Lingers were overwhelmed by the kindness and support they received. After taking some time to reflect about how they wanted to honor Jack’s memory, the Lingers have generously established an endowment that will support students who share his adventurous spirit.
Earlier this month, the Linger family created The Jack Linger Independent Study Fund to provide financial resources to rising junior and senior DA students looking to create their own independent projects that could be characterized as unique, enriching and “outside of the box.” An annual summer grant will afford one or more students the opportunity to expand their personal horizons and step outside of their own comfort zones through the pursuit of independent study projects.
“While healing is still very much in process, we have made progress in honoring Jack in a way that we feel he would be quite proud,” Kathleen and John said in an email. “The goal of the fund is to encourage students to follow a passion and challenge themselves, just like Jack did while biking across the country and talking to everyday Americans about what matters most to them.”
A committee of Upper School faculty and staff, appointed by the head of school, will review proposals submitted by students beginning in June. Students interested in applying for a grant should submit proposals to Independent Study Coordinator Tina Bessias and Upper School Director Lanis Wilson. Student grant recipients will be selected based on the merit of their proposed project and its potential impact on the student and the world. Anyone can make a gift to help support the endowment.
“The fund is a truly special way for our family to keep Jack’s memory alive,” the Lingers said. “We want to enable current and future generations of students to pursue an individual interest in new ways. In doing so, we believe that we will send more Durham Academy graduates into their next phase of education with a unique and powerful experience.”
When DA resumes on-campus classes this fall, Upper School students and teachers will be able to enjoy a special oasis created in Jack’s honor. A flagpole and garden area are being installed on the Upper School campus at the bottom of the outdoor commons steps that lead down to the athletic fields. Cannon Architects — the firm that designed the new Upper School STEM & Humanities Center, K Family Outdoor Commons, Learning Commons and Kirby Gym — designed the space, which includes a flagpole for audiences at outdoor athletic events to face as they sing the national anthem, a small bench facing the athletic fields and a memorial plaque. Upper School student Sustainability Committee members helped the Lingers devise a plan and assisted in choosing native plants.
“For our family, [the fund], the flagpole and garden are so much more than an honor to Jack,” Kathleen and John said. “Durham Academy allowed Jack to think outside the box and pursue a dream. Our goal is to continue to ignite individual creativity and enable enriching opportunities.”
In the text written for an Upper School convocation speech that he was to deliver in August, Jack provided a glimpse into how Durham Academy had supported his dreams.
"My past three years, I have come to realize how special the Upper School is at Durham Academy. And part of that has come from trying my best to be in the moment. Being in the moment is not necessarily something one comes by easily, but if we focus on the positive and take some initiative, it can come about more readily. ... Each day we wake up healthy, we get a gold coin. And at the end of that day, it is spent, regardless of what we do with it. Our time is the most valuable thing we have, and it is important to get our best use of it. ... We have something really special here at DA — the ability to start something on our own and find ourselves along the way. Start a club. Step out of our comfort zone. Follow up on something you really care about and make it happen.”
- DA News
- magazine Summer 2020