Here’s to you, Class of 2015
by Shannon Switzer -- June 10th, 2015
One month ago I officially graduated (which I remind myself of each day, because it still doesn’t feel real). My blog’s already been moved to the alumni section and many friends and colleagues have moved to various parts of the country, and abroad, to begin promising careers.
A few weeks before graduation I was honored (and surprised!) to be selected as the student speaker for our graduation ceremony. The nomination forced me to hunker down and write about my time at the Nicholas School. Initially this seemed like just another item to check off the long end-of-the-school-year task list, but it ended up being an incredible gift. It forced me to carve out time to reflect on all of my experiences and especially the extraordinary people I’d come to know during our two years in the Master of Environmental Management Program.
Below is the original text, which for me captures exactly what the Nicholas School and my time here has meant.
Saturday, May 9th, 2015
It’s truly an honor to be up here today in front of so many people I’ve come to admire over the past two years.
When I think about my time at the Nicholas School the word that stands out is “community”
Not the kumbaya version of community, where we all hold hands and agree on everything. But the kind where it’s ok, even encouraged, to disagree with, challenge and push each other to stretch our perceptions of the world.
Because of this intellectual give-and-take, the community we have is never stagnant—it is a dynamic organism that is constantly growing, constantly shifting, constantly moving—and evidence of this is everywhere.
During my time here I’ve seen our new Dean foster community by highlighting the achievements of students, staff and faculty each week. I’ve seen staff lead initiatives on diversity and inclusion and seen faculty connect us to new dimensions of research, environmental challenges and our own abilities and possibilities.
I’ve also seen students work hard to leave an even more robust version of the Nicholas School than the one we found on arrival. I’ve seen student leaders dedicate time to reconnect the Nicholas School with the greater graduate student body, as well as identify their colleagues’ needs and meet them, both within the capacity of existing student organizations and by creating new ones.
But perhaps more importantly, where else can you find a group of friends willing to go birding with you at 7 am on a Saturday, offer to make you a custom walking stick, help produce a promotional video for a nearby nature preserve, teach you how to install a new bee colony, or spend spring break camping in the Everglades, not the least bit deterred by the prospect of dozens of itchy mosquito bites?
And of course this community could never have come to be without the immense support of friends, family and loved ones, many of whom are here today. Not only did you shape our lives in a way that led us here in the first place, but over the past several years you have also supported us through the many challenges and triumphs that define graduate school.
Likewise we have supported each other through these past years. For example, if it weren’t for many hours of patient help from my fellow classmates, I would likely have been taken from this world by an economics-inflicted aneurism or lay frozen in a GIS-induced coma. But here I stand today. And in all seriousness, I’ve never felt more supported or more valued in a community than I have here during my time with all of you. That spirit of camaraderie, which Nicholas School students, faculty and staff wholeheartedly embrace, permeates every aspect of this program and is what makes graduating today so bittersweet.
And as this period of our lives draws to a close, I quote the famous conservationist, Rachel Carson:
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
This group of individuals before me has collectively chosen the latter path, we’ve chosen to face adversity head-on and not back down, to shatter the status quo. And that determination is yet another reason why I’ve never been more proud to be part of a community—this eclectic community we affectionately call the Nic School.
To close, I want to share a story. Just last week I was chatting on the phone with my mom, who lives in San Diego, about the drought in California. As we discussed how the governor was addressing it, I kept drilling her with questions. Eventually, my mom tired of my assault and said “Well, I don’t know, aren’t you supposed to be working on this?”
I laughed, because I know many of you have encountered a similar scenario, and if we had a dollar for every time someone asked us, “What is it you’re studying again?” we could have paid off our student loans by now. After laughing, I said, “No mom, I work on marine resource use.” Silence followed. Then I remembered that I actually do know fellow students who ARE working on water conservation and told her, “But don’t worry, the Nicholas School’s got people on that!”
In fact, I realized I know colleagues not only working on water conservation, but also helping small share coffee farmers in Latin America become more resilient to climate change, investigating the toxicity of consumer products, keeping oil and gas companies accountable through ecological monitoring, establishing corporate initiatives to improve airline sustainability, and, well, the list goes on.
Being part of this program has given me solid hope for the future, because I know that we will develop solutions, we will innovate, and we will always keep learning.
So now, as we head off to new destinations or return to familiar ones: be it Colombia, China or Singapore. Seattle, Kansas City or Charleston- I envision us as an army of lightning bugs flying into the night, brandishing our newfound knowledge, as we cast humble and honest light on the world’s most complex issues.
Thank you and CONGRATULATIONS class of 2015. We did it!
I’m exceedingly grateful for my time here and am excited to be able to continue as an alumni blogger. Thank you Nicholas School and all the people who have made it such an enriching place. I leave the program more robust and effective and saturated with new achievements, friendships and the sweetest memories.