News Detail

Nick Orrantia ‘07 Achieves Lifelong Dream of Caring For Elephants

How did you get started in your profession? 
I grew up in San Diego visiting the San Diego Zoo (SDZ) and ever since I could walk and talk, my lifelong dream/goal was to be a zookeeper taking care of elephants for the San Diego Zoo. I never had a "Plan B," I always knew that I would eventually achieve this goal and I stuck to it, even though it seemed like a crazy dream. I started working for SDZ's Education Department when I was 16. I actually received the call that I got the job as a paid summer intern while I was competing at a Sage Hill swim meet. From that point on, I just worked my way up the chain, networking where I could, meeting and creating relationships with as many zookeepers as I could at SDZ. I had to leave SDZ a few times to get jobs at other zoos, in and out of state to bulk up my resume and experience, but eventually I found my way back to San Diego and I am now an Elephant Care Specialist at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In 2012, five years after graduating Sage Hill and a year after earning a bachelor’s degree from UCSB, I got my first full-time paid zookeeper position taking care of elephants at a facility in Northern California. Since then, the road to my current position hasn't only been elephants. In working my way up, I was also fortunate enough to take care of Giant Pandas, Grizzly Bears, Spotted Hyenas, Red Pandas, Andean Bears, Sun Bears, Otters and Sichuan Takin.

What is your proudest accomplishment since graduation from Sage Hill School?
My proudest accomplishment since graduating Sage Hill is that I achieved my goal of becoming a zookeeper, taking care of elephants for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Anyone who knew me during my time at Sage Hill, whether they were faculty or students, understood this was my goal. I even wrote about my goal in that small paragraph that is attached to my senior photo for the yearbook. I believe the prompt was, "Where do I see myself in 10 years?" By 2017, 10 years after graduating Sage, I had been a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo and I had taken care of elephants at other zoological facilities, but it would be one more year until both of those goals combined to fulfill my lifelong dream.

What about your experience at Sage Hill prepared you for what you are doing now? 
I don't know if I could truly pinpoint one thing about my experience at Sage Hill that helped prepare me for where I am in my career now, other than that I always felt heard and felt supported by my peers and mentors. I had a great college counselor who helped me finetune the university path that would lead me to my dream and I had supportive teachers and friends who believed I could achieve my goal. Many if not most students who graduate from Sage Hill go off to become professionals in much more glamorous and better paying jobs than being a zookeeper. Although it took me a while to not feel self-conscious about my not-so-glamorous dream job, eventually it was something I became very proud of. Everyone at Sage Hill, my friends, fellow students and teachers knew me as the "elephant guy" and "future zookeeper."

What about your Sage Hill experience impacted the person you are today?
My Sage Hill experience has impacted me so much because I truly enjoyed high school and I think that is a rare statement. I think it is fair to say that most people dreaded their time in high school. It's a rough time in a young person's life for many reasons and high school can only make life worse or more challenging at times. For many, high school is the worst part of that time in their lives. That could not have been more untrue for me. I loved high school, I loved Sage Hill! I think it is pretty amazing and I think it says a lot about Sage Hill School as an institution, that students leave their high school career loving the time they spent on campus. I had so many classes that I enjoyed and so many teachers that I loved. Many of those teachers I am still in contact with today, including math teacher Rena Dear (called Ms. Hansen when I had her) who visits me at work a few times a year with her family.

If you could share one piece of advice to current Sage Hill students, what would it be?
I have 3 pieces of advice for Sage Hill students. First, if it doesn't matter in five years, then it doesn't matter. Don't stress about something that won't be important later on. Second, don't believe in the word "no." That's just a made-up word to keep people down. If you can dream it, you can make it a reality, no matter how crazy it may seem, like a four-year-old wanting to be an elephant keeper! And lastly, I wrote this same piece of advice in that same paragraph in the yearbook next to my senior photo, but I think it still holds up today: do everything you can do now, you can always look back and say to yourself, "[shoot], I shouldn't have done that!"

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Sage Hill School

Sage Hill School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. The School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship programs, and athletic and other School administered programs.