One Student’s Life-Changing Moment at HATCH: Spontaneous Combustion
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One Student’s Life-Changing Moment at HATCH: Spontaneous Combustion

This piece was written by Bozeman High School student and HATCH NextGen member, Cole Janssen, after attending his first HATCH Experience in Big Sky this September.  Cole is an incredibly talented National Geographic-published photographer, writer, and rock climber.  He’s also a Peer Educator at Bridger Care Clinic.  

“Maybe it’s the power conjured from many tightly packed powerful minds in the room, or maybe it was something that happened purely inside of me, but what happens next is only describable as spontaneous combustion… In an instant, pages of my journal are packed with the dream I’ve just become aware of. I can’t sit still.”

The schedule on my lanyard designates this time for Ask/Offer: a session for finding and refining intention through finding and refining an inquiry in a small group. Around the table sit people like Ian Bernstein, co-creator of an incredible robot company called Sphero, Karla Gonzalez, who works in the Panamanian Embassy, and Aithan Shapira, who is a successful artist and professor at MIT. I can’t imagine how I can be sitting among such widely successful and creative people. Furthermore, I can’t imagine how they could take my ask seriously. They’ve just revealed their asks, which each blow me away in their own regard. It’s now my turn to reveal my ask. I crack a slightly self-deprecating joke to combat how silly it is compared to theirs. I mean, I haven’t done anything remarkable! I don’t have a huge project to return to when I come back from HATCH Experience. I’m just a sixteen year old with a dream. I slowly rise and read my ask to the group with a small voice. I can feel my face getting warm with the pregnant silence that follows. To my surprise, however, someone fires back at me. Aithan Shapira’s eyes are focused and he holds a pen tightly in his hand, firing back and forth with me refining my ask. He is furiously writing on a sticky note, scribbling arrows to this and that and messily underlined words.


These real-life superheroes give me x-ray vision. I feel as if I’ve thrown my soul onto the table before me. I look at my soul on the table, and note that I’ve never seen it quite like this before. The layers have been peeled back, and only the pure essential aspects of it remain. A vibrant velvety feeling grows in my stomach and travels up my chest. It flows from my heart to my brain and from my brain to my face with every breath. This is something good.

This feeling only grows as my HATCH Experience goes on. Every story I hear adds to a motivation that I’m sprinting to keep up with. Now that I know I’m allowed to fall in love with this passion of mine shamelessly, I’m suddenly head over heels. My ask has been on my mind the entire time ever since the Ask/Offer session, and all I want is to find a way to pursue it wholeheartedly.

It’s Saturday, and Koann Skyrzniarz has just finished her portion of the speaker series. Maybe it’s the power conjured from many tightly packed powerful minds in the room, or maybe it was something that happened purely inside of me, but what happens next is only describable as spontaneous combustion. Passion floods every chamber of my mind and I am consumed. It’s the vision of how I will fulfill my ask. As the crowd of HATCHers applauds, I tear out my journal and begin to furiously scribble down the vision that fills my mind. In an instant, pages of my journal are packed with the dream I’ve just become aware of. I can’t sit still.

Speaker series is finished now, and I feel like the earth is shaking beneath my feet. It’s time for HATCHLabs, so I sit with my group, which is endeavoring to find a way to bridge social gaps and create equality. The earth hasn’t stopped shaking, by the way, and I feel a seldom-felt feeling coming on. People who know me well know that I’m not much of a crier, yet here I am. Anticipating emotion, I rise and hastily make my way towards Lone Peak.


I badly want to contribute to my HATCHLabs group, but I briefly need  to take care of myself. I promise myself that I will leave for 20 minutes to gather my emotions, and then return to my group with undivided attention. Making my way towards a quiet log under a chairlift, I anticipate the waterworks. What happens when I sit on this log is… inconvenient. I didn’t cry, after all, but just sat there thinking. I’m trying to feel my emotions in a controlled environment, like playing with explosive chemicals in a quarantined test-lab. My prevailing emotion is a little irked, as I’ve left the last HATCHLabs session for this strange trying-to-be-meaningful walk in the mountains. I hurry back to join my group again, and I note my friend and fellow NextGen HATCHer, Emma Bowen, standing on the patio behind the lodge. When I pass Emma and greet her, another bout of spontaneous combustion occurs. I absolutely and inexplicably lose it. I completely break down. I can’t imagine what Emma’s thinking, but I’m at a point of feeling emotions now that can only be resolved once completely felt. I look up and standing on the hill is a wounded fox. She looks over at us for a long while, and then limps back off into the tree line. Seeing peaceful natural beauty reassures me of the earth’s constant turning. Both the presence of the fox and of such quality people creates a certain kinship that helps me feel safe in this vulnerable moment. I watch as she disappears and I take deep breaths beginning to regain my composure. I note the amount of release that’s occurred. The earth stops shaking beneath my feet, and I can finally breathe.

Release is a theme for the rest of my time at HATCH Experience. I continue to step back and welcome emotion every so often. The HATCHers have a special way of making me emotional, after all. After incredibly moving performances, the HATCH band plays and the dance floor opens up. The final bout of release occurs as I lose myself to dance during a ripping keytar duel by Finn and Holly. Everything is vivid and warm.

As I sit here now, I’ve turned this intense experience into action. A wise HATCHer told me to never talk about a project until it is in action, for you don’t want to have that good feeling of doing a meaningful project before you’ve actually done anything to make it reality. With that in mind, I’ll only be vague about the future. Those messy pages in my journal that came as a result of spontaneous combustion have turned into a detailed plan, and I wake each and every day excited to push that plan to reality. Every time I think of it, my heart beats a little faster, and I recall all of those experiences and stories I experienced at HATCH. All I can say now is stay tuned.