Wayfinder Award and National Geographic Explorer

On 11 June, I and 14 new friends received the 2024 Wayfinder Award. We also became National Geographic Explorers.

2024 National Geographic Wayfinder Award
2024 Wayfinder Award Recipients

We travelled to Washington DC and gathered for the first time on Sunday. 

I kept my expectations in check, as one never really knows how things will unfold when you put so many people from so many backgrounds together.

We bonded within minutes.

Though we had only just met, I felt like I had known these people my entire life. Sounds silly, no? But such was the commitment and passion of each person to their specific pursuit that I found myself completely absorbed, wanting to know more. Conversation was nonstop. Also, no attitudes. Just fantastic, friendly people.

At the risk of sounding sappy, I'll say that it felt like family. Energetic, inspiring, positive family. The best situation I could have hoped for.

2024 National Geographic Wayfinder Award
My Wayfinder family

We spent a lot of time together over the next few days, most notably on the day we rehearsed and gave our brief presentations. We were each given three minutes to introduce ourselves to the greater Explorer community, during which time we could show (only!) three images.

Have you ever tried to sum up your life's work in three minutes?

During rehearsal on the morning of our presentations, I learned that I would be last to take the stage (alphabetical order, ugh). Which meant it would be more than an hour after things got started before my talk. Attention spans would be waning. Feeling pressure to close the event strong, I retreated to my hotel room, took a nap, then rehearsed the heck out of my talk.

Things went well. Everyone did a bang-up job. I think we kept the audience entertained. I think I wrapped up the afternoon's presentations well. And I hope we all have an opportunity to share more about our respective work in greater detail at some point.

2024 Wayfinder Award Tony Wu
The first image I shared

I should note that one of our group of 15 wasn't able to make the event until after our moment in the spotlight. Coming from Ukraine, Bohdan had all the necessary arrangements made. It was all going well until the printer at the embassy in Poland broke, making it impossible to print his visa until said printer was repaired. That is why there are only 14 people in the group photo above. Sigh.

The printer was eventually fixed, so Bohdan joined us toward the end of the week. I was happy to be able to spend a couple of hours chatting with him during the final party.

2024 Wayfinder Award Tony Wu
Me from farther away, third of three images I shared that day

There were longer talks given by other Explorers during the two days after our presentations. In a word, wow. The presentations were incredible. I did not want them to end. Ever.

I will close by saying that being recognised with an award is always gratifying.

But as I reflect upon the week, I keep thinking about the people. My fellow Wayfinders of course, but also the many people at National Geographic who shepherded us through the week, as well as the hundreds of other Explorers in attendance. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was enthusiastic and inspiring. There were people from all over the world—all different, and yet, all the same. Just the way it should be.

My only regret is not being able to speak with every person. There simply wasn't enough time.

But I take great comfort in knowing that there are many Explorers out there dedicating their lives to learning, sharing and making the world a better place.

I feel like I am a better person for having spent the week among such role models. I also feel the obligation to live up to the standard they've set.

And with that, I head back to the ocean.

2024 Wayfinder Award group photo
Wayfinder group photo, with our caretakers (aka, babysitters) on either side of us