WARREN WILSON COLLEGE Commencement May 16, 2009
WWC Commencement 2009 ‘Just another day in paradise’ by Ben Anderson “Just another day in paradise.”
hose words from an early arrival nicely summed up the setting for the 2009 Warren Wilson College Commencement. After a rainy week, the morning of May 16 broke with a blue sky overhead and a warm sun shining on the patch of green known as Sunderland Lawn, site of the annual ceremony. A large crowd extending beyond the lawn gathered beneath the hemlocks and hardwoods to see 156 graduates receive their diplomas, tangible conﬁrmation of four years of Triad achievement. In some ways Commencement at Warren Wilson is almost like a spring Homecoming. The gathering included former faculty member Hun Lye, 2008 Pfaﬀ Cup recipient Ryan Morra and former admission counselor Kendra Powell ’00, in all the way from her home in Montana. Families and friends also joined the festivities in droves, celebrating the graduates’ big day and enjoying the lush scenery of an Appalachian spring. One father said he feels as if he’s on vacation every time he comes to campus. But the day, as always, belonged to the graduates. Their senior class speaker was the spandex-clad Jacob Salt, an environmental studies major from New York City, who promised to pepper his remarks with “at least three clichés.” Jake may or may not have achieved that, but he did challenge his fellow graduates to “catalyze change on a much broader scale” beyond Warren Wilson. He also noted, in reference to the College’s work program, that WWC graduates are “not afraid of bumps and bruises, as Wilson has given us calluses.” This year’s main address, titled “A Moment in Time,” was delivered by Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of carpet-tile maker Interface Inc. and often called “the greenest chief executive in America.” Anderson took the gathering on what he described as a one-mile walk through time on planet Earth, noting that Homo sapiens appeared on the scene only during the past .7 inch of the mile-long timeline. Even more recently, he pointed out, was humans’ discovery of oil, leading to what he labeled as the “great carbon blowout.” As a result, Anderson said, Earth’s “sixth mass extinction is under way, but this one’s diﬀerent. You might say that we’re tripping on a hair and perilously close to ruining the whole walk.” But Anderson also said that he is hopeful about the future, even if “I cannot say that a new wisdom has permeated society,” because change has at least started. “I had not a clue [about the environment] 50 years ago,” he said, referring the late 1950s when he was a young graduate of Georgia Tech. “But in 2059, you can come back here and talk about how you turned it around.” This year’s Pfaﬀ Cup Award, the College’s highest student honor, went to Lauren Kriel, an English/theatre major from Springﬁeld, Ill. Emily Brigham, a biology/environmental studies major from Charlotte, received the Sullivan Award in recognition of spiritual qualities applied to daily living. Other award recipients included Catherine Reid, faculty member in the Undergraduate Writing Program, for Faculty Teaching Excellence; and retiring staﬀ members Buz and Marilyn Eichman, from Electrical and Student Life respectively, for Staﬀ Teaching Excellence. ❏ 2
WWC Commencement Address A Moment in Time May 16, 2009, Asheville, NC
by Ray C. Anderson
resident Pfeiﬀer, Chairperson Hunt, Members of the Board of Trustees, Jake Salt and graduates (Class of 2009), distinguished guests, alumni, administration, faculty, students, ladies and gentlemen: It’s good to be back. What a setting! Thank you for the honor of addressing you. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be here, for three primary reasons: 1) to get to talk to you graduates (Congratulations!), 2) to get to talk to your parents, and 3) to get to talk to your grandparents. By inviting me, President Pfeiﬀer has seen ﬁt to inject an environmental theme into this august occasion, so I am doubly honored to have been invited to be a part of these proceedings. [Jake has set the bar very high. Jake, prepare to be bored.] I graduated from college 53 years ago, Georgia Tech Class of 1956. Since then, besides becoming an industrialist, I have become a parent, and a grandparent. My grandchildren are of these graduates’ generation. So, I am presumptuous enough to think I have something to say to all three groups—graduates, parents, and grandparents. There’s an added bonus, too, I think, in the opportunity to address other family members and friends who are here. Fifty-three years . . . seems like a long time, doesn’t it? And it is, on a human scale. But that’s not the only scale that counts. Consider, for example, the scale of, say, geologic time. On that scale, if we could take a walk along a one-mile-long time line that represented the 4.5-billion-year history of the earth, we would see that life ﬁrst appears at the 240 yard mark (3.8 billion years ago). As we continue to walk, the staggering proliferation of life unfolds, as species after species come and species go, each preparing the way for the next and the next; and with the help of two natural processes—sedimentation and sequestration—remove the toxic hostility of the early world’s atmosphere, storing it down there, so life can evolve up here—with ﬁve major disruptions, called mass extinctions. We continue our walk until, at long last, our species, Homo sapiens, appears—in the last 7/10 of an inch of the mile-long time line. That’s us! For the next half inch or so, we are hunters and gatherers, foraging for a living. But then, .15 inches (a bit more than 1/8 inch) ago we settle down to become farmers and then merchants, and eventually, industrialists and teachers and graduating students, and so forth. That was the Agricultural Revolution, beginning .15 inches ago. With .04 inches to go: Buddha. With .03 inches to go: Jesus of Nazareth. With .003 inches to go (the thickness of a human hair in a mile): the industrial revolution. With .0015 (15/10,000) inches to go, we discover oil and begin the great carbon blowout. Oil (sequestered poison) has accumulated for the last 1360 yards of our mile. Today, as we speak, perhaps half of the accumulated total has been extracted and mostly burned for energy in the last .0015 inches, increasing greenhouse gas concentration 38% and bringing on climate disruption—global warming—in just an instant of geologic time. With .0006 (6/10,000) inches to go, we learn to split the atom, and life faces yet another threat, this one unprecedented over the entire mile. So, a lot has happened in the last 7/10 inch of our mile-long walk, since our appearance, as we have turned the Earth’s crust upside down and brought forth again into the biosphere—which nature spent practically the whole mile perfecting—the toxic hostility of the early world. And 3
not just oil, but metals and minerals in whose presence we could not have evolved. What’s more, we have introduced man-made compounds to which our species was never exposed throughout its evolutionary journey—PCBs, DDT, CFCs—totally alien to all life. It should not surprise us to learn that seven out of 10 members of the American Biological Association polled 10 years ago agreed that the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is underway now, as species are disappearing at a rate unknown on Earth in the last 65 million years since the mass extinction of the dinosaurs—25 yards back. But this one is diﬀerent. All the other mass extinctions have been the results of natural disasters. But this one is the largely unconscious act of the highest form of intelligence yet to evolve, Homo sapiens (self-named “wise man”), and the fruit of that intelligence, the industrial age—the last 3/1000 inch. You might say we are “tripping on a hair” at the ﬁnish line, and are perilously close to ruining the whole walk—in just a moment in time. So, on that scale, 53 years is about, oh, .0005 (5/10,000) inches, a bit less than the nuclear age. When I was your age there were ﬁngers on the buttons in Washington and Moscow that could have blown everything to smithereens. You live in a post-911 world, and even without terrorism, it’s hard to say which era is/was more dangerous. When you are my age, will the world be less or more dangerous? I’m pretty sure it won’t be a close call; it will be clear-cut, one way or the other— way more dangerous or way less dangerous. Do you know what I think will make the diﬀerence and determine which? That’s what I came 200 miles to talk about to you, your parents, and your grandparents, because all three generations have something to say about what kind of world your grandchildren will live in—50 years from now, the class of 2059. Your grandparents and I—our generation—represent, theoretically, the wisdom of our culture. Your parents are in their most productive years, in the midst of their drive to satisfy their lives’ ambitions, whatever those may be. You—well, you don’t yet know what you don’t know, but you’re about to be on the fast track yourselves, right behind your parents. The wisdom of the culture embodied in my generation has changed in 50 years. To my grandparents, the common wisdom went like this: the Earth is large, so large, it’s an inexhaustible source of natural resources; we’ll never run out. Today the emerging wisdom is: the Earth is ﬁnite, not inﬁnite; you can see it from space. That’s all there is. It has limits as a source. The common wisdom used to be: the Earth is large, so large; it’s a limitless sink, able to assimilate our waste, no matter how much, no matter how poisonous. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” the environmental protection people used to say. Today the emerging wisdom is: the Earth is ﬁnite and therefore necessarily limited in its ability to be a sink, to absorb and assimilate our waste. Dilution is just a delaying action. The solution to pollution is prevention. The common wisdom used to be: relevant time frames are, well, the life of a human being, or more likely the working life of a human being. Sometimes shorter, as in business, just the next quarter; in politics, just the next election.
Today the emerging wisdom says relevant time frames are evolutionary in scale, and we must learn to think beyond ourselves and our brief time on Earth, and think of our species and all the 30 million other species that share planet Earth, across evolutionary time. Earth has another mile to go (ﬁve billion more years) the scientists tell us. Is, say, a whole inch too much to wish for our species? That’s 1,000 more generations for just one whole inch for humankind in Earth’s two-mile time line. The common wisdom used to say: Earth was made for man to conquer, to subjugate, to rule. Homo sapiens don’t really need the other species, except for food, ﬁber, fuel, and maybe shade on a hot summer day. The emerging wisdom says, no, it’s the other way around. Humankind was made for Earth, and the diversity of nature is crucially important in keeping the whole web of life—including us— going, sustainably, over evolutionary time. If you are religious in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God’s ﬁrst commandment, implicit in Genesis 2:15, was, “Tend the Garden.” It has been there all along, and it means what it says: take care of Earth. The common wisdom used to be: technology is omnipotent, especially teamed with human intelligence. What do you mean, intelligence? Why, you know, left-brained intelligence: practical, objective, realistic, pragmatic, numbers-driven, results oriented, unemotional, board room thinking. These will get the job done, thank you very much. The emerging wisdom says, Hey, wait a minute! What about right-brained thinking, the caring, nurturing, artistic, subjective, emotional side? Isn’t that at least as important as the left side, perhaps a good bit more important, since it represents the human spirit? If something doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s not right, no matter what the numbers say. And what about technology? Isn’t technology part of the problem, considering its dominant characteristics: extractive, linear, take-make-waste, fossil fuel driven, abusive to the biosphere, wasteful, and focused on labor productivity (more stuﬀ per man-hour)? The emerging wisdom says technology must be part of the solution, but it must fundamentally change. It must become renewable (not extractive), cyclical (not linear), solar and hydrogen driven (not fossil fuel), benign, waste free, and focused on the productivity of all resources, not just labor. The common wisdom used to be: trust the market to be an honest broker and allocator of resources—the revered “invisible hand” of the market. The emerging wisdom says, maybe the invisible hand is not so honest after all, if it is blind to the externalities. How can prices be right if all the costs are not counted? Does the price of a pack of cigarettes, established by the market in its wisdom, reﬂect its costs? Of course not, not close, considering the societal costs that the market has externalized. Does the price of a barrel of oil reﬂect its cost? Not close, considering the cost of the military, the Gulf War, 9/11, the Iraqi War, and global warming that the market has externalized. One more: The common wisdom used to say, business exists to make a proﬁt. The emerging wisdom says, no, no, business makes a proﬁt to exist. It must surely exist for some higher purpose. What CEO really expects to stand before her or his Maker someday and talk about shareholder value? 5
There’s much more to the emerging wisdom that is superseding the common wisdom of my grandparents’ day, but I hope you get the drift. We really are beginning to think diﬀerently about our relationship to Earth, as we seek to save Earth (and us and our grandchildren) from ourselves. I cannot say the new wisdom has permeated our culture yet, but it is taking hold, and that is very important, because our culture’s wisdom represents the paradigm—the mindset, the view of reality, the mental model of how things are—that underlies our entire global civilization, especially the industrial and economic systems that basically shape our lives. So, to the grandparents, my generation, I say grasp this new wisdom before it’s too late and shout it from the roof tops. The fate of your grandchildren and their grandchildren depends on the view of reality that will be held by your children, the parents of these graduates, and by the graduates themselves. To the parents, the striving parents, I would say, quoting scripture again: “In all thy getting, get thee wisdom.” In large measure, our striving is not yet fully guided by the new wisdom. When our factories and businesses take and take and take from the earth to make, sell, use, and dispose of products (stuﬀ) in linear, take-make-waste processes that are driven by fossil fuel for energy and pollute every step of the way, we are ignoring the ﬁniteness of Earth as a source and as a sink. At least that’s the way it was with my factories before the new wisdom began to sink in with me 15 years ago at age 60. (Grandparents, it’s never too late.) Then we began to change the way we ran our factories, to acknowledge and embrace the new reality of a ﬁnite Earth. What a diﬀerence it has made, not only in the pride of our employees and in peace of mind, but in our economic results as well! Parents, you hold the balance—you and your generation. You must continue to redesign the industrial and economic systems to accept and live within the limits of nature, and change the ways we have blindly accepted throughout the industrial age—the last 300 years (a moment in geologic time)—the most destructive and consuming in Earth’s entire 4.5-billion-year existence. If my generation and yours do not change the system, these graduates will most likely be the last generation that can. That’s not just me talking; that’s the Union of Concerned Scientists, including more than 100 Nobel laureates, who told us in 1992 (17 years ago) in an open letter to humanity that we had one to a few decades to bring our civilization into harmony and balance with Earth’s limits. Which brings us back to you, graduating Class of 2009. As your folks do their share of absorbing the new wisdom and living accordingly, you will live to see a much safer Earth, provided of course, you carry on yourselves in creating a kinder, gentler society, in ever greater harmony with Earth. As both generations succeed, I can tell you with a high degree of conﬁdence, that when one of you graduates is standing here 50 years from now, you will be talking to the class of 2059 with pride about how you turned it around in your day and kept from messing up the Earth beyond repair, for all the creatures that share Spaceship Earth. I think the world of 2059 will be better, safer, and healthier than the world of 2009, because so many of you “get it” already. I had not a clue 50 years ago. You have more than a clue; you do know what you know about the need to walk lightly on Earth during your own personal life’s journey, because it has become ingrained in you at Warren Wilson College. Thankfully, you have had that privilege—to be exposed to such a wonderful example. Go, change the system from inside or outside, it doesn’t matter which; just change it for the better. It needs you! Congratulations for reaching this milestone. It’s a big one! You have the power. Use it wisely. Godspeed the rest of the way. ❏ © 1994, 2009 Ray C. Anderson. All Rights Reserved.
Closing Remarks by Sandy Pfeiﬀer, WWC president
efore making some closing remarks about our graduating class, I would like to congratulate all the seniors who received awards at last night’s Honors and Awards event—especially Lau-
ren Kriel, who received the Alton F. Pfaﬀ Cup, our highest student award at the College. Also, I would like for us to take a few moments to honor the memory of Ryan Exline, a Warren Wilson student who died in a car accident this past December. Ryan was a much-loved and respected student at the college who completed his studies here in Spring 2007 and worked on the Master’s in Environmental Management degree at Duke as part of our cooperative program with the university. The senior Yearbook that came out just this week was dedicated to the memory of Ryan and includes the following passage: “[Ryan] truly loved our woods and he was an avid herpetologist. He was incapable of walking past a snake without catching it, examining it closely, photographing it from various angles, and then releasing it.” Ryan will be much missed by all of us at this college. Let’s pause a few moments in memory of Ryan. At the close of each commencement, it’s become customary to summarize the results of a survey done of our senior class about their immediate plans in “beyond Wilson.” Here are just a few pieces of information gleaned from the survey about your next adventures. For some of you, the next stop will be an advanced degree in ﬁelds such as American Culture, Animal Behavior, Art Education, Ceramic Arts, Clinical Psych, Counseling, Creative Writing, Environmental Education, History, Hydrology, Law, Neuroimaging, Permaculture, Public Policy, Publishing, Social Work, Teaching, Veterinary Medicine and Wilderness Medicine. Many others of you will be heading straight to work or internships. Here are a few of the jobs and internships you mentioned in response to the survey: Detail, Pavilion, by Ann Vasilik, 2005.
Staﬀ musician for Mars Hill Old Time Music Week Environmental educator at Hidden Villa Summer Camp An apprentice in permaculture in the Finger Lakes Co-director of a summer camp in the Bay Area Intern at a boarding school farm in Lake Placid Intern in an Equine Clinic Leader of mountain bike trips in the Southwest for teens Manager of a sapﬂow study in a forest, through Duke Mentor for ﬁrst-generation college students in Mars Hill Raiser of pandas Rancher in Montana High school biology teacher English teacher in Taiwan Grant writer Horse trainer Manager of a farm north of Asheville (with three milk cows and an orchard, so far) Peace Corps worker in South or Central America Vineyard owner in South America Farmer who will tend the garden, build a house, and “keep the woman happy” Worker at a native plant landscaping company Field Hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Research assistant at the University of Maryland AmeriCorps teacher Fireﬁghter in Asheville Professional soccer player Worker on a tall ship Baker Member of an Arctic Circle crew that changes truck tires Assistant on a green sea turtle conservation research project in Costa Rica Market manager for a farmers market Brewer Chemist at Baxter Healthcare Climbing director Fly-ﬁshing guide in Montana Free lance writer Medical technologist Landscaper—beginning Monday after graduation
The places where we might ﬁnd you traveling, working, and studying are: ALL over this country (way too many to list), Spain, Arctic Circle, Australia, Canada, Central America, China, Costa Rica, Mexico, South America, and the US Virgin Islands, to name a few. Finally, here’s how you said you’d be living your lives outside of work or school. It appears we’ll ﬁnd you . . . Biking across the country (with the best roommate in the world) Enjoying the beach, local beer, and your family Falling asleep on the couch with your dad after watching bad TV and working all day Getting married Joining an artist collective Having a baby August 29th Learn to ﬂyﬁsh Learning to ﬂy planes Learning to hang glide Living in a yurt Making loan payments Milking goats everyday Learning to surf Playing ﬁddle tunes in Mt. Airy Reconnecting with the hometown Re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia Making pots Train hopping across the country Hitchhiking across the country (but “don’t tell my parents”) All in all, you’re a diverse and ambitious lot with dreams enough to ﬁll many years and lives, and you’re worthy to be among the intrepid group of Warren Wilson graduates that have gone before you. Hang on to those dreams, stay focused, make good friends, and come back to see us at Warren Wilson. You can be certain we’ll invite you back and keep you informed about the state of your alma mater. Finally, a few thanks are in order. Like so many other events at the College, the success of this occasion depended on the hard work of many student/staﬀ work crews: for example, Facilities Management, Landscaping, Garden, Student Activities, Public Safety, College Press, Media Relations, Advancement, President’s Oﬃce, Work Program Oﬃce, Registrar’s Oﬃce, and Dean of Students Oﬃce. In true Wilson style, everyone pitched in. As well, we heard ﬁne music by the Warren Wilson College Chorale and also by Connell Sanderson, our Commencement piper, who’s the son of our college archivist, Diana Sanderson. My thanks to all of you—family members, friends, crew supervisors, faculty, staﬀ, volunteers, and others—who helped guide our Class of 2009 and who helped shape their experience, their character, and their dreams. Enjoy this moment. Now please stand and sing the Warren Wilson College alma mater. After the benediction, I invite you to join me at the Commencement reception at the Pavilion. ❏
Commencement 2009 The Benediction by Reverend Steve Runholt
r. President, Madame Dean, I beg your indulgence for a slender moment. I came in with this class and, as their chaplain, I have one or two things I would like to say to them as they prepare to leave this place. Class of 2009, it is my honor to pronounce this benediction, this blessing, upon you. For we did indeed come in together, you and I. Four years ago we arrived on campus right about the same time. And in the intervening years we’ve had our shares of highs and lows, and experienced the full spectrum of joy and heartbreak, which is, I might add, essential preparation for life out there in the wild world. We have welcomed a new President, a new Dean of the College, a new Dean of Students, a new Acting Dean of Service-Learning, a new VP for Finance, a new VP for Advancement and a new Director of Spiritual Life. We have been blessed by their collective leadership, their guidance and their friendship, and we give them our thanks in return. (Meanwhile, Ian and Richard, thank you for sticking around this whole time! And Marilyn Eichman, let me say we could not have done this without you. Thank you!) We’ve seen buildings collapse and then rebuilt. Or at least almost rebuilt. Still work to be done. (Who knew Bryson Gym would be a metaphor for the economy that now awaits you out there?!) We have welcomed new friends into the class. And as Sandy rightly noted a moment ago, we’ve lost friends along the way. We have shared meals while serving the poor and the homeless, breaking bread with the women in Room in the Inn. We’ve sung Christmas carols in the Chapel and chanted Buddhist and Jewish prayers at the Festival of Lights. We have sat in sweat lodges and built a buﬀalo fence. In other words, we have grieved, we’ve laughed, we’ve prayed, we’ve served and we have danced together. And so it is my privilege to charge you as you leave this place. Class of 2009, where there is hatred in the world, make love. Big Love, Capital L Love. Make it with your hands and your hearts and your decisions. Cross your own boundaries and befriend someone who is diﬀerent from you, and love them—a Republican perhaps, or a carnivore. A Muslim, or a Christian. Learn what it is they value and try to respect that. Our world needs such understanding. Where there is violence in the world, wage peace. Wage it in your families and in your communities. Wage it in villages in South America and in schoolyards in Kenya and in your own heart. Wage it with your writing and your speaking and your preaching and your teaching and your marching. Wage it with blackboard and chalk. With herbs and antibiotics. With research and prayer. Wage it on the streets and on Facebook. And when you are inclined to join the world’s violence, chant this prayer (say it with me): Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. 10
Where there is discrimination and exploitation in the world, do justice. Do it with your smiles and your laughter. Do it with your vote and your voice. When you meet racism, as you surely will, stare it in the eye and don’t back down. When you meet homophobia, greet it with the courage of a revolutionary. When you meet poverty, resist it with your service and your advocacy and your compassion. Name injustice and defeat it. Defeat it in the courtroom and the classroom and the workroom. Defeat it in the churches and the synagogues and the temples. Make Love, graduates. Wage peace. And do justice. And don’t stop until all God’s children are loved and sheltered and valued and equal, because until then our work on earth is not ﬁnished. And so, as you go from this place, may the deep peace of the running wave be with you; may the gentle beauty of these lovely mountains continue to inspire you, and may the highest and best values of Warren Wilson College guide you this day and for the rest of your life! Now go out and change the world! Your time here is done! ❏
Detail, Bryson Gym, by Ann Vasilik, 2005.
Bryson Gym, by Ann Vasilik, 2005. Front Cover: Pavilion, by Ann Vasilik, 2005.
Printed on Environment by Neenah Paper, made with 100% post-consumer waste.
WARREN WILSON COLLEGE Admission Publication l June 2009