Commencement Ceremony Addresses
2019 Commencement Address by MS Graduate Sophia Cinnamon
I first want to express my infinite gratitude to everyone in this room for showing up to support and celebrate the incredible and diverse work of this amazing cohort of graduate and undergraduate students. We are artists, activists, advocates, lawyers, musicians, policy nerds, storytellers, scientists, farmers, educators, and writers. We have devoted the last few years to deepening our relationship to ourselves and the world around us in order to best protect and reimagine our future.
Today, I’m going to briefly share with you a personal and collective story of tending, and how this may nurture our work as we begin to move from the EVST incubator and into the world.
We often equate the verb “tend” or “tending” with a woodstove, campfire, or garden. To tend is to take responsibility or care of something, often to ensure a repetitive action produces a necessary product.
However, we rarely apply this process to ourselves, often moving through the world with half-filled or nearly empty cups.
I know this all too well, as this time last year I was forced to take a hard look at my own cracked mug that was barely supporting a body slowed to a near halt by chronic illness. Here, in order to manage my symptoms and limp through graduate school, I was forced to learn to tend to myself. This meant slowing down and, above all, asking strangers and loved ones for help. This is now a constant, imperfect practice for me.
This lesson that I’ve learned on a personal scale relates to our collective endeavors to tend to the wild world around us.
The noble and arduous work of tending to the world in an effort to address the ecological crisis requires our hearts to break over and over again. In our daily lives, we are faced with immeasurable grief, a daily barrage of obituaries from across the planet of human and non-human beings and landscapes alike. We now experience loss and devastation from extinction, degradation, and climate change, along with extreme violence at an unprecedented rate. And, we often experience this through lightspeed mediums that fail to hold space for us to fully process the grief on a personal and collective level. We are living with unimaginable loss and an uncertain future. This means everything is on the table and anything is possible. No one has ever been here before, which means with the constant ache in our chests comes endless possibility. This empty space between our grief for what we’ve lost today and the hope for our future is where I find solace and inspiration.
As author Elizabeth Lesser writes, holding both grief and hope is “the paradox at the heart of being human,” holding it all and moving forward, however messy.
With so much at stake, how do we stay with this work for the long haul? How do we hold our tender hearts with compassion and enact lasting change?
Whether in academia or in the field, we are often taught that grit and endurance will get us through. And I certainly do not deny that sentiment.
But what I do know is that in order to nourish, advocate, and protect the outer wilds—yes, we must do the hard, un-sexy work; but most importantly, we must simultaneously tend to our own inner wilderness. Our heartbreak, our exhaustion, our grief. In order to show up and do our best to make and inspire change, our cups must be full. To do our best work as fierce advocates, educators, lobbyists, parents, farmers, lovers and friends, we must first tend to ourselves.
I intended not to reference quotes from any dead, misogynist white dudes today, but this Edward Abbey quote seems to easily encapsulate my thoughts here. In a call to his fellow environmental activists, Abbey writes “do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.”
As we grapple daily with the need to care deeply for ourselves and for this world, we might endeavor to ground this search in optimism. I find this in the writing of ecologist Lauren Oakes, who, as writer Maria Papova describes, finds “parallel potentialities for a grim and glorious planetary future.” In the midst of studying how climate change has decimated yellow cedar forests in Southeast Alaska, Oakes writes:
“If fear is the absence of breath, and faith is a positive force, I want to breathe into an uncertain future. If this tree species and all the people connected to it gave me one great gift, it is this: the realization that there’s simply no imaginable tomorrow — no modeled future scenario, no amount or shade of red—that could ever possibly nullify the need for unwavering care and thoughtful action today. To me, that is thriving. To me, in this rapidly changing world, that is grace.” Now on this celebratory day, tend to yourselves and tend to each other. And by all means, please keep breathing into this uncertain future.
2019 Commencement Address by BA Graduate Casey Brandon
Thanks for a good 4 years...
Hey everybody, my name is Casey Brandon. Glad to see everybody in this underground lecture hall on such a nice sunny day. I remember vividly Josh Slotnick, former evst professor who retired in the fall to become Missoula county commissioner telling me at the Peas Farm one day this past fall that good public speakers never use notes. (shake paper to the crowd) but you know josh, not all of us are destined to be county commissioners. Im sorry.
Four years ago when I started at here at UM I was initially declared as a Philosophy Major, because I took a cool philosophy class my senior year of high school, but Basically I did not know what I wanted to study in college, and I have a sense that a lot of us graduating today would say the same thing. Towards the end of my first semester, Dan Spencer, one of our department professors, came into one my classes and spoke to us about the Environmental Studies Program and some of awesome things the program has to offer, such as the hands on work in the community and an interdisciplinary approach to course requirements, and that next day I officially declared myself as an environmental studies major.
Dan has been on sabbatical this year and was unable to here for this Graduation, but I want to say thank you to him coming into my class that day, and for ultimately changing the course of my life, It is curious how the universe can work like that. Dan was also my trip leader for a three week winter session program in Vietnam I participated in junior year. These were probably the best three weeks of my life, and sense he is not here I can finally tell the world that I took a shot of rice wine with my college professor.
I grew up in Eugene Oregon and was raised by a family that gave me the autonomy to discover my own passions and desires, and I feel so lucky to have been apart of college program that provided me with that same sense of discovery. I came to college knowing I had a love for the natural world as well as recognizing that the current relationship between humans and the nature could be a bit better. It is easy to get doom and gloom in talking about global climate change, and there have certainly been times over the past four years were it was hard to be hopeful. But I feel extremely lucky to be graduating in 2019 with a degree in environmental studies, and to have had a support group of people that want to make a difference. The work that we do is more important than most of us might realize. We are at important point in human history in which we have the opportunity to mend our environmental mistakes, or continue on business as usual. Having seen the passion and in this community over the past four years, I feel very hopeful about the future.
The beauty of this program is that it produces students who go on to work in the nonprofit world, who will work as scientists, policy makers, artists, businesses people, and we will all be doing it with an underlying passion for creating a better world. I have taken classes in other departments across campus but have never felt the sense of community that EVST classes are able to cultivate or the willingness to engage in discussion about such difficult topics. I also don’t know of any other department on campus that offers you course credit for pulling carrots out of the earth.
There are often times I tell people what i’m getting my degree in and they say: “so what are you gonna do with that, or how are you gonna make money, or they some half hearted joke about how I am going to save the world.” After I tell them my short elevator pitch about what my future plans are I say that yes, as a matter of fact, i am going to help save the world. When people ask me that question, I just wish they had the opportunity to be an EVST student for a day, to experience Those feelings I’ve had walking out of a a meeting with my professor or during class discussions about environmental issues, I wonder how any of us could not be successful.
Thanks to this program, I now have the tools to go out into the world and enact meaningful change, and I could not be more grateful for that. I was sitting on the steps outside Rankin hall (beloved rankin hall)l the other day starting to feel nostalgic about our time here at UM coming to a close, realizing that after today we will no longer be students at this University, just visitors. But then Susan walked out the door to pet a puppy, and we got to talking and I realized that actually, I’ve got a family here in EVST, and that will never change.
So to all of us graduates here today, congratulations. To all the family members who are here, as well as the ones who couldn’t be here, thank you. I think I can speak for all of us graduates today that we wouldn’t be here without you all. Thank you to the environmental studies program and all the amazing people who make it what it is, I will forever be grateful for these last four years. While we lose our titles as students today, I encourage everybody to remain diligent students of life as we move through the world, there is always more we can learn. So to us, When that climate change denying family member starts talking politics over dinner tonight, let them have their time, because the future is ours.