The School’s 118th graduating class joins a global network of F&ES alums, now numbering more than 5,000 worldwide. This year’s class includes 11 Ph.D. recipients and 146 master’s graduates. Among those are 28 joint-degree graduates.
They will face challenges. Speaking to the class, F&ES Dean Indy Burke reminded graduates that they’re launching their careers at a time when environmental threats are growing — including a rise in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events — and yet policymakers refuse to make these threats a priority.
Indeed, these newly-trained experts are likely to face growing public dismissal of expertise itself, as well as a dismissal of facts and science. This is particularly true when it comes to environmental issues, Burke said. “We launch you into the world at a time when it is not clear that expertise is desired, but at a time when your expertise is badly needed,” she said.
To counter these trends, she urged the students to “own” their expertise, with pride and confidence. But she also encouraged them to temper that confidence, to contemplate their “certainty” of what they know, how they interpret that knowledge, and their feelings.
“It’s important that we watch ourselves,” Burke said, “to be sure that our intellectual or personal certainty is not similar to the dogmatism represented by those who doubt the realities of science, and that our certainty doesn’t interfere with our ability to listen, to grow, to change our ideas and thereby improve our understanding and our effectiveness with others around us.”
The prospect of leaving the protection of graduate school and the comfort of friendships and community has sometimes been more than some students have been willing to bear, said Caroline Tasirin ’19 M.F.S., another class speaker.
“Change is scary,” she said. “But friends, of all people, shouldn’t we be the most familiar with change? At some point in our past we saw the atrocities being done to our environment, to indigenous people, to minorities, and we said, ‘This is not right! I want to change it. I want to be part of that change.’”
Speaking to his classmates, class speaker Myles Lennon ’19 Ph.D. recognized the occasion as a moment to commemorate each graduate’s contributions to movements and environmental and social struggles greater than themselves.
The trajectory of those struggles, he said, are evident in the hallways of Sage Hall, where the photos of every single class in the School’s history are displayed. In those group pictures, the slowly changing face of the environmental field is evident, as groups composed exclusively of white men in the early 20th century slowly give way to classes with greater diversity. In the past two years, students have used the photos to demand a more diverse school and environmental movement. The changes, Lennon says, represent incremental, albeit incomplete, progress.