Profile — Ice and Graduation: Vaughn Rodriguez’s Final Months at Northern


Photo courtesy of Vaughn Rodriguez

ICE CLIMBING – Rodriguez enjoys the view during a winter climb. Rodriguez is a PR Major in his last semester at Northern, and is currently president of South Superior Climbing Club.

Harry Stine

Vaughn Rodriguez didn’t know much about Northern before enrolling. All he knew was that he had a friend that needed a roommate at NMU, and before he knew it, he left Grand Rapids and found himself in Marquette. 

“I just decided to kind of go out on a limb and just come up here, and ended up falling in love with the place,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez gelled well with his new surroundings quickly, joining South Superior Climbing Club and making friends with rock climbers and exploring the widespread nature of the Upper Peninsula in the most intimate way — through hand and foot, not to mention rock and the occasional moss.

But what really took hold of him was one he found just last year, when he volunteered for the Michigan Ice Fest, the country’s oldest ice festival.

Before volunteering, he received a text from one of the event organizers, Bill Thompson, also known as a co-owner of Downwind Sports. 

“And he was like, ‘Hey, if you skip class today and come down here a day early, you can go out in the field and take clients climbing and be an assistant,’” Rodriguez said. “And that kind of stemmed into ‘I was climbing a little bit that day.’ And then for the rest of the trip, I got to climb almost every day with a couple of professional athletes, which was really, really cool.”

Since then, ice climbing has taken hold of Rodriguez. He worked to get his Single Pitch Instructor Certification, allowing him to guide people for rock climbing, rather than be an assistant. Just recently, he went on a trip to Montana in order to climb in Highlight Canyon. 

While he admits there is always a risk of falling and that when beginning climbing, the fear can create a barrier for some people, he doesn’t have too much of an issue with that.

“Every time I go climbing, there is always a fear of falling, especially with ice, because one of the joking/non-joking rules is ‘don’t fall,’” Rodriguez said.

Now, Rodriguez is the president of South Superior Climbing Club, and is nearing the end of his time at Northern, a feeling he described as a little bittersweet. 

“I was hanging out with some friends last night, we were kind of just like, ‘it’s that time’,” Rodriguez said. “We are kind of at this climax, this peak, this is the culmination of four years of college.”

However, Rodriguez said that those connections last as long as you put in the effort to keep them, and if you treat graduation like ‘an expiration date,’ then things will go as you think they will. He maintained that when you align with someone and put in the effort, you can have a ‘friend for life.’”

When asked about advice for fellow students, whether incoming, returning, or graduating, Rodriguez had a few words of motivation to say.

“Use your voice,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t be scared. Speak up if you want to do something, because everybody in life wants to do something, and you don’t want to be the guy who looks back 10 years later and says, ‘I wish I did it.’”