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Sustainability theme of Convocation

Sustainability was the theme of this year’s convocation, an annual event held to celebrate the beginning of the academic year. On Oct. 2 current seniors and past alumna wore their graduation regalia and tuned in to speeches from members of the Mills College community.

Stephanie Mills, a 1969 Mills graduate, gave the keynote address and focused on issues of bioregionalism.

Alumnae from the Class of 1949 celebrate Convocation. (Kim Harris)
Alumnae from the Class of 1949 celebrate Convocation. (Kim Harris)

Mills, who has not been back to the College for 40 years, said things were both familiar and new at the same time.

“It is kind of unreal in a way,” she said, in an interview.

She wished the class of 2010 good luck, and encouraged them to get in touch with the environment.

“Do get a connection to nature,” she said. “It is really a sense of renewal and truth.”

At the beginning of convocation President Janet Holmgren welcomed the audience and spoke about the College’s dedication to sustainability and being green, noting that the color of the class of 2010 is in fact green. She said the class of 2010 will be having “lots of your lasts this academic year,” but called these lasts a “spring board” for everything students would be doing in the future.

Kathleen Burke, now chair of the Board of Trustees, gave a speech in which she welcomed new students.

“You are all joining an amazing group of individuals,” said Burke.

She also mentioned that the Board is doing its best to keep Mills thriving in a difficult economic time. She talked about the privilege of having Mills as convocation speaker, calling her “a real hallmark of the Mills community.” Burke also spoke of her pride for the work Mills students have done for the environment.

“Sustainability is not just a buzz word,” said Burke.

Other speakers gave their best wishes to the incoming and graduating students, including co-presidents of the Associated Students of Mills College, Amber Williams and Ashley Grant, and Post Baccalaureate student Todd Rabkin and President of the Alumnae Association, Anita Aragon Bowers.

Holmgren introduced Mills, a self-proclaimed bioregionalist, by speaking about Mills’ activist roots at the College. She said in 1969, when Mills gave her commencement speech to her graduating class, she was beyond her time in thinking about the environment and sustainability. At a time when the topic of civil rights was on everyone’s mind, the environment was not yet a hot topic. Holmgren said that Mills brought “National attention to an idea that’s time had come.”

Mills began her speech by stating that she thought of doing a “40 year gloom and doom update” on the state of the environment, but decided instead to stress the importance of living in and loving nature. She stressed that people must learn to “live within the planet’s ecological limits” and “speak a word for nature.”

Her speech focused on the interconnectedness of plants, animals and humans, and the importance of sensitivity to other living beings.

“Destruction of another being is a crime against life itself,” said Mills.

Mills mentioned specific aspects of the ecosystem in her “bioregion” at her home in Michigan, including an old ash tree, and the ash tree’s sensitivity to infestation by foreign insects introduced by industry. She also noted the accomplishments of Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold, both people who have done incredible work for the environment. She spoke about Carson’s book, Silent Spring and the influence her research and ideas had on America’s decision to ban the use of DDT in 1972. Mills told Leopold’s story of shooting a wolf in the mountains and discovering the importance of wildlife preservation.

Mills described the extinction crisis as one of the most terrifying calamities that the Earth’s ecosystem is struggling with currently. She said that 15 to 30 percent of species will possibly be extinct by 2050.

“That’s your 40-year reunion,” Mills said, in a comment specificially to the Class of 2010.

“It is a holocaust,” she said. “The life and beauty of the Earth is at stake.”

She stressed the importance of recognizing the effects our actions have on other living beings, and of spending time with nature, encouraging the audience to spend time with undomesticated animals and to watch the seasons change.

After her speech, Mills was awarded an honorary doctorate degree, presented by professors Andrew Workman and Bruce Williams.