Stories From the Sagebrush

By Maxwell Johnson

As a young child, I was oblivious to the amazing qualities and history of the place that I lived in. In the dusty hills and mountain towns, I saw them at face value, not understanding the people who had helped build them and the communities that have flourished within them. I was being left out of the stories that were hidden among the sagebrush and streets of my community. It was not until Nevada Humanities’ Great Basin Young Chautauqua (GBYC) where I truly found out what an amazing place we lived in.

The largest lesson I learned from GBYC was that of the magic of the stories from the wild frontier of Nevada that everyone who lives in this state shares. Stories from Dot So La Lee, Mark Twain, Patty Reed, John C. Fremont, miners, and others had been uncovered through the process of researching for individuals to represent in GBYC. This not only put the people that I had been researching into context but the entire state and state history into context. I realized their stories were stories that I could relate to, and stories that helped me better visualize my place in the world, and in my community. Chautauqua through its lessons on research, and storytelling opened my eyes to the feelings of people from the past, how they thought, and what they valued. With this, I was able to conceptualize the human experience, and what it means to be a member of a community of individuals with a shared history, as well as goals, morals, and dreams.

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What I learned from GBYC was how to connect to others and their feelings through stories. GBYC taught me how to use stories that I have written to connect to others and to show others my life, my views, and my dreams. I truly believe that some of my closest friends were the scholars that I met in the GBYC program. We got to learn with each other, not only about individuals from history, or about our community, or about how to write; together we learned about ourselves, our views on the world through the art of storytelling, and the lessons we received from the past experiences of people throughout the history of humanity. In GBYC, I did not learn about simple history. I learned about a history of communities, stories, and people who had dreams, beliefs, and views. In turn, these lessons helped me better understand and appreciate the people and communities that surround me and continue to surround my life.

Maxwell Johnson is a high school student in Reno, Nevada. He started with the Great Basin Young Chautauqua program in the third grade, and over seven years he has portrayed John Muir, Mark Twain, Milton Hershey, Jim Henson, Robert Baden Powell, Rod Serling, and more. He now assists the GBYC as an intern. He enjoys the art of learning and researching the world around him, and he loves to write.

Maren Rush