Baccalaureate Address: Larissa Curlik 07

Story posted May 25, 2007

Rising to the Challenge
by Larissa Curlik 07
May 25, 2007

It is with great honor that I have the privilege to stand before you today. Last year, President Mills spoke at graduation about Bowdoin's commitment to environmental stewardship. Today, I want to talk briefly about the ways we as students, as leaders of our generation, and as members of a global community have responded to the overarching issue of global warming. I have chosen this topic not just to convince you to share my concern for the dangers that global warming poses, but because I believe it offers us an opportunity to reflect on the challenge we are presented with today and the possibilities that exist for us in the future.

Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times article last spring, pointed out the enormous potential we, as students, have to change the course of global warming. His challenge to us was: "To become the 'Greenest Generation,' and build the institutions, alliances, and programs that will turn back the black tide of climate change." As he put it, "This is your challenge," and asked, "Who will rise to it?"

Bowdoin students have risen to the challenge. Each year, in an effort to conserve energy during the annual dorm energy competition, more and more of us are "doing it in the dark." This year, some students pioneered an effort to heat college housing with bio-diesel. Others established a yellow-bike program to encourage us all to drive less. Many students have attended statewide and regional conferences to collaborate on activist efforts. And this spring, hundreds of students joined a national challenge here on campus to "step it up" and fight global warming on April 14th by petitioning Congress to reduce CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2050. Earlier this month, we danced on the quad to solar powered music during the student organized solar festival. And over the past couple of years we shared meals from the Bowdoin Organic Garden that students helped to plant, grow, and harvest. These are just a few of the ways we, as students, have become stewards of our environment here at Bowdoin.

Yet, our work has just begun. A year after Thomas Friedman challenged us to become the 'Greenest Generation,' he hesitated to commend the nation on the great efforts being made to stop global warming. The "real inconvenient truth" about global warming, he wrote, is that "we have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the efforts and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country and eventually world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years." As Friedman suggests, if we are going to be the Greenest Generation, our work cannot stop here. Our stewardship must be a life-long commitment.

We have spent the past four years in pursuit of meaningful ways to define our lives. As President Mills has stated, I found meaning at Bowdoin by majoring in Environmental Design. Academically, I have spent my time studying how humans have shaped the environment we live in through the built form. But my commitment to environmental issues, including global warming, has extended far beyond the classroom. I am proud to be one of the students who collaborated with administrators to get Bowdoin to purchase 100 percent renewable energy on campus, and I have joined youth activists from across the world to support stopping global warming during UN negotiations on climate change in Montreal in 2005. While I have found fulfillment in each of these commitments, it has been the friends, experiences, and knowledge that I gained from them that truly helped define who I am today. But, like all of us here, my work has just begun. I will pursue to discover and commit to the things I am truly passionate about for the rest of my life.

Our lives are a continual process of renewal, similar to those found in nature. I was reminded of this fact a few days after spring break when the Maine skies finally cleared, the air warmed, and the soil softened beneath my feet. As we emerged from the dark, cold winter, I realized that my commitments at Bowdoin were quickly coming to an end; thoughts of graduation were unavoidable. And amidst the crocuses emerged an awareness that, all along, an inevitability of loss was embedded deep within the pursuit to define myself here at Bowdoin.

Tomorrow morning, we will lose our immediate connection to this place and our identity as Bowdoin students. We will no longer be seniors, varsity athletes, members of clubs, or student employees. Let us not forget, however, that like all things lost, we will not forget these identities. They are now part of our past, and will be instrumental in the navigation of our futures. This impending loss, like those found in nature, has made the reality of graduation both a thrilling and terrifying experience. Perhaps Emerson said it best when, "crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky" he found himself "glad to the brink of fear."

Another poet, however, reminded me that we should not be paralyzed by this fear. Rather, fear can be a teacher. It can provide us with the inspiration to make changes in our own lives, and our world. Stanley Kunitz wrote one morning, as he watched "light splash / on the shell-pink anemone / swaying on their tall stems / ...[and] saw light kiss / the silk of the roses / in their second flowering," that "I can scarcely wait till tomorrow / when a new life begins for me, / as it does each day, as it does each day."

Life after graduation is still life, and the processes of renewal begins again. So while we may feel vulnerable in the newness, openness, and uncertainty that our futures reveal, we also have the opportunity to lose ourselves to the immensity of possibilities before us and continue the process of discovering ourselves and our capacities as stewards in this world. Despite the changes that are before us, let us not forget the spirit of activism or the accomplishments - not just as environmental stewards but in all aspects of our lives — that we have achieved as students here at Bowdoin.

Regardless of our individual beliefs, commitments, and talents, the time has come for us to take responsibility for and embrace our futures. The choice is this: We can sit here, paralyzed by the fear that the uncertainty of our futures bears, or we can let go, rise up and grow in our commitment to finding ourselves, our passions, and another layer in which to live our lives.

Today, this is our challenge. Who will rise with me?

Thank you.

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