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Thomas Cluderay ’03 is the Aspen Institute’s Associate General Counsel, responsible for helping the Legal Team manage the Institute’s legal affairs, advising on a wide range of topics pertaining to nonprofit operations and supporting organizational compliance and risk management activities. Outside of work, his interests include backpacking on public lands and photography.

Lean on Me Etosha Zebras

Lean on Me Etosha Zebras by Thomas Cluderay '03

 

“Thomas Cluderay ’03 is the Aspen Institute’s Associate General Counsel, responsible for helping the Legal Team manage the Institute’s legal affairs, advising on a wide range of topics pertaining to nonprofit operations and supporting organizational compliance and risk management activities. Prior to joining the Institute, Thomas served as general counsel for Yellowstone Forever, the nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park. Before that, he was general counsel for Environmental Working Group, a national environmental health organization headquartered in D.C. Outside of work, Thomas is active in the Association of Corporate Counsel where he serves leadership roles in ACC’s global Nonprofit Organizations Network and National Capital Region Chapter. ACC recognized him in 2019 with its “Top Ten 30-Somethings” Award. Beginning next month, Thomas will transition to be deputy general counsel at the National Wildlife Federation. His other interests include backpacking on public lands and photography.”

You are an avid photographer who took part in the 75th Anniversary Art Show as well as the Alumni Art Show currently on exhibit. Where did that interest come from and how have you nurtured that passion?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with different art mediums to find creative outlets while also learning composition basics. I took a lot of art classes at Country Day that helped me build that foundation. And it was Paul Murphy's introduction to photography class that really introduced me to the camera.
At the same time, growing up and through scouting, I spent a lot of time in the woods. Those experiences fostered a deep appreciation for nature. And while today I explore a range of photography subjects, I think that lifelong appreciation and sense of wonder from the natural world keeps bringing me back to capturing outdoor landscapes and wildlife. 

How did your photos change throughout the pandemic?

The COVID pandemic really strained my travel, street, and portrait photography. Over the past two years, outside of my day job, I've doubled down on taking photos in the woods and wetlands near my home in Washington, D.C. By spending more consistent time there, I've been able to closely observe and photograph gradual changes by season. Like watching a play, I've noticed plants and wildlife entering and exiting for different acts, and through that cycle, I've formed a deeper attachment to those spaces. Probably my most consistent subject during the pandemic has been owls. They're such beautiful and mysterious creatures to observe, so it's always a treat to come across and photograph one. And if you pass through the woods quietly and attentively enough you just might see one yourself. Especially in winter, when more is revealed with the leaves off the trees. To see more of my photography work, feel free to visit www.tcluderayphoto.com.

Winter Falls by Thomas Cluderay '03

Winter Falls by Thomas Cluderay '03

 
Tell us about your career journey. What has been the most rewarding or exciting professional experience for you thus far?

I am currently associate general counsel for the Aspen Institute, a global nonprofit dedicated to ensuring a more fair, just, and equitable society, creating space for values-based dialogue and leadership to tackle some of the most pressing challenges of today. For most of my professional career, I have been serving as in-house counsel to nonprofits like the Institute, although mostly ones in the environmental and conservation space. I've found it incredibly rewarding to work in the public interest and for organizations aligned with my personal values and interests. I also like the multiple hats I get to wear as in-house counsel when supporting our work. I certainly get to wear a legal and compliance hat, advising on those important considerations. However, I also have the opportunity to weigh in as a strategic business adviser and risk manager when thinking holistically about ways we can advance our mission. At the Institute, I've also had time to further hone my equity lens, actively exploring ways we can incorporate more inclusive governance and stakeholder engagement in our projects so we're doing our work more fairly, appreciating the full contributions of our staff, and ultimately working to be more responsive to the communities we engage with. 

I have managed a varied legal portfolio at the organizations where I've worked. However, partnering with management to navigate the challenges and impacts of COVID-19 is up there as one of the more complicated, sweeping areas I've focused on. Especially when your employer is in the business of in-person events and convenings. Over the past two years, I've helped advise on our office closure and reopening plans, develop robust safety screening protocols for staff and other stakeholders, including minors, and fielded dozens of vendor and event contracts so that we can continue to advance our mission while also effectively managing risk in the face of an evolving pandemic. Of course, like many working on this front, I won't be complaining when we can file COVID-19 away and reprioritize other projects!

Who were the teachers that had the biggest influence on you at Country Day?

I'm incredibly grateful for the learning experiences and growth I experienced as a student at Country Day. The list of influential teachers is long, but I'll mention three of note here. First, I am forever indebted to Tim Waples for his kindness, encouragement of deep critical thinking, and memorable journeys he took us on through assigned texts, revealing literature's capacity to help us learn as much about ourselves as the society we live in. Ed Kelly also made a lasting mark with his history classes. He had high expectations for all of his students, but you knew he cared deeply about them, so you worked even harder to master the material. I definitely honed my work ethic through his instruction, even if "history" --- as Voltaire concluded and Mr. Kelly taught --- "is after all nothing but a pack of tricks we play upon the dead." I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Marsha Newton-Graham. Her biology class certainly advanced my lifelong fascination with nature, better understanding the vital life processes that underpin us all. As my advisor, she also cared deeply about my well-being as a student and member of the CCDS community. 

What advice would you give current Country Day students?

Before offering some thoughts, let me give a quick disclaimer about receiving advice from others. Recognize that any advice will be informed by the experiences of those who impart it. So, yes, glean what you can, but acknowledge what may work for one person may not for others. Better to compare it with a wealth of perspectives and then tailor what you've heard to your own circumstances. With that said, I will share three bits of guidance shaped by my own journey and observations. 

First, I've found it helpful to start by assuming good intentions whenever engaging with others in conflict or under challenging circumstances. That may not always be the case and individuals may have directly caused or contributed to a problem. But that initial framing, rooted in empathy, is more likely to de-escalate a situation and make you more open to finding resolution or finding constructive paths forward. 

Next, recognize that "if you're not intentionally including, you're probably accidentally excluding." I have this statement written on an index card above my desk as a daily reminder to be a more inclusive advocate. Not just at work, but in my personal relationships, as well. When you show up in conversations and develop relationships with others, it's important to actively account for our respective privileges, power dynamics, biases, and blind spots, and actively work to create space where everyone can equitably contribute and experience a greater sense of belonging. 

Finally, many institutions these days are developing or refining their guiding values to inform their decisions and priorities. That's something I think we all can do personally, too. Those values will vary by person, but can serve as a helpful lodestar, even when navigating complicated situations. For example, drawing on above, I believe in leading with empathy and actively seeking to be inclusive. Then, once you've settled on a core set of values, make sure you're doing maintenance work. Regularly ask yourself whether your video still matches your audio, adjusting as needed.


Thomas currently has work on display in the Alumni Art Show at the Hance Family Gallery. Join us for the alumni artists’ reception on February 25, 2022, from 6:00–8:00 pm. To see more of Thomas’s photography work, visit www.tcluderayphoto.com.

You can connect with Thomas Cluderay '03 via his LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/in/cluderay/.

Register for the Alumni Art Show Reception