When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, it marked the first time a major hurricane had made landfall in the United States since 2005. The storm would go down on record as the wettest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the U.S. In Houston alone, the storm killed more than 70 people and destroyed over 100,000 homes.
But in the wake of the hurricane, Houston native Carter Stern '04 emerged as a leader in the city's recovery efforts through Keep Houston Rolling, a bike-sharing initiative launched to help storm victims get back on their feet.
What are your fondest memories of Berkshire?
My fondest memories of Berkshire are the winter months. I grew up in Houston and had never really been in the snow before my first winter at Berkshire. I remember the smell of the snow and the crunch of grit and ice under my feet the first morning I left Eipper after a snow storm. The winter can feel oppressive but it always seemed to bring people together. I remember hiking around the mountain and staying up late with friends in the dorms, chatting about politics and life. Those friendships have lasted long after the days at Berkshire ended.
I also remember the relationships with faculty. In my first year, Jean Erick Joassaint's door was just a few doors down from me. He had a tremendous joy to him that I will never forget. Despite all the hardships he had gone through, Mr. Joassaint had the most joyful spirit I have ever been around. He passed away a few years ago, but I think of him often.
What are the most important life lessons that you learned as a student?
The most important life lesson I learned as a student is that nobody cares how smart you are. Life is about hard work. I had grown up in a bubble my whole life – attending the same school for 12 years in the same neighborhood with the same people. I felt like I was somebody and had this identity that I'd never had to question. My first day at Berkshire, after my parents dropped me off, I went to a barbecue that was being held near the rec center. I filled up a big plate with food, turned around to face the rows of picnic benches, I realized I didn't know a soul there. I felt so alone! I ended up taking my food back to my dorm room and eating alone. That night was a turning point for me. Nobody cared who I was, and that was a good thing. It taught me that you needed to work hard and be nice to people. The rest is just details.
Can you tell us about your career and hobbies, and why you are passionate about them?
Well, I started off as a trial attorney. I loved thinking on my feet and sparring with other attorneys but the work ultimately left me cold. My heart wasn't in it.
While at Berkshire, every moment not devoted to schoolwork was invested in the Ritt Kellog Mountain Program with Frank Barros and Don Morley, and the mountain bike team. I had been a climber and cyclist long before Berkshire, but it had always been a somewhat solitary pursuit. At Berkshire, I made great friends in the outdoors and realized that those activities could help build community.
Years later, slogging away in an office, I realized that I needed another job. I had been doing a ton of volunteer work around cycling and urban design in Houston, but law ate up so much of my time that I wasn't able to devote the energy to it that I really wanted. So I took a leap, quit law, and took the head job at Houston Bike Share in June 2016. My wife was pregnant with our second child and wasn't working; it was a big pay cut, and I woke up at 3 am in a cold sweat every morning before my first day, worried I was making a huge mistake.
After 16 months, this is where I was supposed to be. Bike Share is a key piece of city infrastructure, used by everyone from old guys in suits, to wage workers getting to their jobs. In that sense, it brings people of disparate backgrounds together, opening the channels of communication, and reminding us that we are all in this together.
After Harvey, I started a program called Keep Houston Rolling that hopes to solve the transportation issues faced by Houstonians in the aftermath of Harvey. We have received over 1,000 bikes since launching two weeks ago, and it has been an incredibly powerful experience. Every day people come to our office, tell us about what they've been through, and often accepting bikes with tears in their eyes. Bikes can been a key tool to getting back to life as usual. Its not a silver bullet and the needs of Houstonians are so great, but it is so gratifying to get to use the skills of my fantastic staff to serve people who need some help.
How did Berkshire help you shape and pursue your goals?
Berkshire taught me to be fearless. When I first toured Berkshire, I had never been north of Tennessee. I actually thought that New Jersey was a suburb of New York and not its own state! Embarrassing! I went to Berkshire because after my Junior year of High School, having thought that I could ignore school and pursue my dreams of racing mountain bikes around the country, I had a reality check. I did not want to go to boarding school and it was a tough decision to make. But then I got there, I stepped off the cliff, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. You have me on record – going to Berkshire was the best thing to ever happen to me and was the single most important event in my life.
I learned that you have to take risks. And that erring on the side of comfort is always the wrong choice. You have to believe in yourself, and believe that you will be okay when you work hard and treat others with respect.
What advice would you give to today's students?
Advice! I have just reached a point in my life where people want advice and it is unnerving. Did all these people that I used to solicit advice from feel as clueless as I do?? My advice is probably the running theme of these responses – work hard, treat other people well, make it about the work and not about your own ego, believe that you can change the world. We all feel so much pressure in our lives to be or do certain things. If you listen to your gut, you will never regret your decisions. Life is short and you have to follow your passions.