Friday, May 19, 2017

Congratulations Graduates!

Your dream of a Virginia Tech diploma is reality!

And now everyone is asking you  “what next?”    What is your next dream?  Some of you are already daydreaming—that’s ok.  We daydream all the time.   Dreaming is easy. Dreaming is natural. We have 2,000 daydreams per day of  ~ 14 seconds each, or 1/3 of our waking hours.

My dream is that each day you will judge what is true, beautiful and good in your world.  And when you see something wrong, you speak up.

Fish Conservation graduates at commencement, May 13 2017.
A student was passionate about archery so she searched for a better archer who would help her improve her skills. She heard about such an expert and headed out to find his home. She came upon a clearing in the woods and saw an arrow in the exact center of the bullseye on a tree. She walked on.

And came upon another clearing – again with a bullseye painted on a tree with arrow smack in the middle . Eventually she saw a barn and a house.   On the barn were several targets painted and each on had an arrow embedded in the center. 

On the porch of the house she found an old gentleman, sitting in a rocking chair, rocking slowly.  Who made these targets? she asked.   “ I did”  he replied.       She was baffled and confused – he was not what she expected.   “How do you do it?”  she asked.      

He replied “Anyone can do this.  After I aim and shoot, then I paint the target around the arrow.”  She stalked away sorely disappointed. 

Imagine that you always drew the bulls eye around where your strengths were today!     Sad!    You would never dream.   Because dreams have potential to motivate change.  -- You dream, you tell a story, you work to change, you become, you change the world, or at least some little part of it.    

Before Virginia Tech -- Years of NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND standardized testing left you thinking that your abilities were determined by the results of the test.   That was wrong -  After Virginia Tech --   You believe that your hard work and perseverance are essential to lifelong learning.

You spent four years learning to become… a fisheries scientist, geographer, forester, meteologist, a sustainability professional or wildlife biologist.  Maybe your are still uncertain or beginning to chase plan B.  You won’t soon write a Story of being disillusioned with your soul-sucking job.  You now join a  group of caring, hopeful, optimistic people.  And someday amidst all the shouting of bad advice it becomes crystal clear to you " This is what I was always meant to do!"  You have chased the dream!

Kim Wasserman won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2013, which honors grassroots environmental heroes.  Wasserman grew up in a Chicano neighborhood on the southside of Chicago. She lived in the shadow of two Coal Plants, burning coal since 1903.  The smokefilled haze from the polluting industries of Chicago chased me away decades ago.     

But Kim Wasserman was placebound.  When her infant son was three months old, he suffered his first asthma attack.   Kim began to ask questions and to speak up.  His asthma was caused by environmental pollution in the neighborhood.  In fact, her neighbors had high rates of asthma, high blood pressure, and bronchitis

Four years after her son’s first asthma attack,  Harvard released a study that attributed 41 premature deaths and 2,800 asthma attacks each year to the plants in her neighborhood.   And yet Mayor Richard Daley ignored their efforts.   His neighborhood is upwind. We call this Change Resistance.  It is Environmental Injustice and all too common.

Kim led “Toxic Tours” of industrial sites and hosted  “Coal Olympics” when Chicago made its bid for the 2016 Olympics. She explained to residents that they had the power and the right to fight for clean air. The two power plants were among Illinois’s leading sources of toxins.   Kim led the effort to form a Clean Power Coalition, which influenced new mayor, Rahm Emanuel and new City Council members to create new pollution control requirements that led the plant owners to shut down.   Today, Kim is introduced as the woman who shut down Chicago's dirty coal plants.  She remains a vocal advocate for clean water. Last year, she delivered the keynote address at the Waterkeeper Alliance Conference

It takes more than knowledge  ---  it takes courage to speak up to power when something is wrong, it takes integrity to tell your story to energize and mobilize your community.   

The impossible dream of genuine sustainability is your dream --  your generation will invent the sustainable future and live to see the dream realized.

Congratulations on this special day!  You are all heroes of your own developing story. 

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