On Sunday, May 17, UVM honored our graduates in the Class of 2020 with an uplifting virtual celebration. In my recorded address to Rubenstein School graduates, their families, and their friends, I expressed my deep-felt joy and hope in the academic and personal achievements of our graduates as they launch their careers in a much changed world.
There are no words to describe the experience all of us have had this past semester. Spring of senior year in college is typically one of the most exciting and inspiring times of students’ lives. The COVID-19 pandemic changed this and so much else for all of us.
As a team, the University and School moved quickly to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and, in a nearly seamless manner, to deliver our courses remotely, while providing hands-on learning experiences we aspire for our students. We take pride in our accomplishments, our collective resilience, and our students’ positive response. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Many of you have been directly impacted in perhaps very personal ways. I speak for our entire Rubenstein School faculty and staff that we wish you, your families, and your friends the very best. At a time when we may feel disconnected, know that we have never been more connected to each other than we are now through our Rubenstein School Community. Trust that you will always be a part of the Rubenstein School Community. It is indeed a very special team.
As a send off to our most recent graduates and an inspiration to all of our alumni, I would like to remind you of your amazing experiences and accomplishments that I hope will shape you for a lifetime and keep you connected to the University and the Rubenstein School. These are experiences that make you unique, that make your education unique, and about which we are most proud.
FIRST, you have worked with faculty who love to teach. They care about you and have formed lasting professional connections with you. They learned with you in your courses; they used creative and current technology and focused on real-world problem solving. And trust that your core Natural Resources courses have prepared you well for your careers, as engaged citizens and environmental leaders.
SECOND, your classes were very hands on and more than half had field or lab components. Experiential learning is at the heart of how you learned — from the first day in NR 1 to the last day in NR 206. You learned about sustainable forestry at Jericho Research Forest, you hiked to the top of Mount Mansfield and learned about endangered Bicknell’s Thrush, you spent hours on the Melosira to test for dissolved oxygen content and water quality on Lake Champlain. You contributed hundreds of service hours to our community partners in your service-learning courses and internships. You had memorable experiences, all the while learning with your peers and professors and making lifelong friends.
THIRD, your classes and majors were interdisciplinary, valuing both natural sciences and social sciences. You learned how multiple disciplines interact to understand the stickiest environmental challenges in the world. You learned that understanding how values influence science was as valuable as learning the scientific principles and methodology.
FOURTH, you advanced your understanding about social, environmental, and climate justice. You learned the skills of dialoging and reflection and working across differences. You learned to respect and value other people’s perspectives, even if they differ from your own. You understand the history of environmental inequities, the many dimensions of environmental justice. You have a foundation in understanding power and privilege. These are lessons that I hope stay with you for a lifetime.
FIFTH, you learned from renowned environmental scholars. You got to know them on a personal level. You learned about some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, not just from a text book, but from the researchers who are studying these problems themselves. Each one of you also has cultivated the foundational transferable skills that will propel you into leadership roles. The world needs you, and we are counting on you to be collaborative problem solvers.
I will close with two of my favorite quotes to remind you of what you learned as a student in the Rubenstein School.
The first quote is from famed writer and humanist, Robert Anton Wilson: “The future is up for grabs. It belongs to any and all who will take the risk and accept the responsibility of consciously creating the future they want.”
The second quote is from famed Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
We all have confidence in you that you will indeed take the risk and accept the responsibility of consciously creating the future that you want. And in doing so, you will lead by example.
We wish you all the very best. Please stay connected with us. Be well.
Nancy E. Mathews, Dean
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources