May 18, 2013

Unity College graduates charged with stewardship of Earth, communities

By Amy Calder
Staff Writer

UNITY — Take care of your community, your country and the planet, an acclaimed environmental educator, writer and scholar told Unity College seniors Saturday.

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Unity College senior Angelica Morrison, 21, of Smithfield, R.I., smiles while she fellow soon-to-be graduates get a standing ovation at the start of the 44th commencement exercises on Saturday in Unity.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

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Unity College President Stephen Mulkey speaks at the college's 44th commencement exercises on Saturday in Unity.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

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James Gustave Speth, law professor at Vermont Law School and former dean of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, addressed about 500 students, faculty, staff, friends and family members who turned out for the college's 44th commencement exercises.

Speth said the most important thing he learned over the years is that what we have to get us though life with "a maximum of happiness and a minimum of suffering" is each other.

"The main thing that can and does give meaning to our lives is caring for others," Speth said.

Consumerism — amassing material things such as cars, clothing and jewelry — does not bring happiness, he said.

"There's no meaning to be found at the mall," he said.

Former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and founder and president of the World Resources Institute, Speth has written several books including "Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment."

He told seniors to care for children and all the future generations who will inhabit the planet. He likened the fight against climate change as sometimes like rolling a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. But he urged seniors to "find your rock."

"You never know. It might just stay up there one day. Take care. Take care of each other. Take care of the country. Take care of the Earth."

Unity President Dr. Stephen Mulkey conferred on Speth an honorary doctorate in sustainability science. He also conferred an honorary doctorate of arts and humanities on stage and screen actor Kaiulani Lee. Lee is an acting teacher who has performed on and off-Broadway and in many television series. For about 20 years she has portrayed Rachel Carson in the play, "A Sense of Wonder."

Unity, the first college in the U.S. to divest investments in fossil fuels, was a natural choice for Angelica Morrison, 21, who received a bachelor of science degree Saturday.

Morrison, of Smithfield, R.I., completed a double major — in captive wildlife care and education — as well as marine biology.

"I really wanted to work with animals and I did a lot of volunteering with the Audubon Society," Morrison said just before commencement. "Unity has a really specific captive wildlife program that's just so unique."

Morrison said she will intern this summer at the York Center for Wildlife, a rehabilitation center in Cape Neddick.

"I really want to work in zoos or rehab centers," she said. "I especially would like to work with sea otters. That would be my dream job."

Her fascination with sea otters started long ago.

"They're the only marine mammal that uses tools, so they're really smart," she said. "They use rocks to break open shells. They eat mostly sea urchins and mussels and clams. They're mostly in southern California and Alaska.

"They are threatened. A lot of them have issues with the oil spills and disappearing kelp beds. They like to live and breed in kelp beds. They tie themselves to the kelp to keep from floating away when they sleep."

Morrison said her experience at Unity was great.

"I had a lot of really good teachers. They really catered classes to what we wanted to do. It was very hands-on. It's a very close community. We're very small, very focused on sustainability."

Her love of animals started when she was a child, she said, watching nature programs on television.

"My mother's side of the family was Native American so I grew up being really close to nature, and that whole mentality really brought me to loving this stuff. Preserving the earth is very important. We have only one of them."

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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