The YSE Class of 2023: Ready to Meet the Challenges Ahead with a ‘Sense of Purpose, Possibility, and Patience’
With optimism and determination, YSE graduating students celebrated their accomplishments, promising to take time to invest in complex climate initiatives and work to ensure that all marginalized voices are heard.
The need to repair the environment and combat climate change is urgent, but the development and implementation of innovative, evidence-based solutions take time. How will Yale School of the Environment’s 122nd graduating class negotiate that challenge? With patience, Dean Indy Burke advised the 152 graduates in an address under the tent at Kroon Courtyard during the 2023 commencement ceremonies May 22.
Full coverage of Commencement 2023, including the highlights video, photo gallery, graduate spotlights, and the YSE ceremony livestream video.
“We want to solve climate change — urgently. But the planet changes slowly, with tremendous inertia, and complex feedback loops related to physics, chemistry, and biology of CO2 and temperature as they interact with the atmosphere, ocean, and ecosystem — feedback loops that are hard to reverse. Think of it, 150 years of greenhouse gas emissions and the planet has now begun to discernably change, like a large heavy ball just starting to roll downhill, more and more rapidly, and it is very difficult to change that trajectory, even with rapid action. On top of planetary inertia, there’s a slow rate of societal understanding, willingness to change, then effecting change through policy and technological developments. Still, we must stick with it, with both a sense of purpose and possibility, and one of patience, if we are to address this urgent and existential challenge,” Burke said.
The planet is at a threshold for climate change, biodiversity loss, and for environmental injustices, she noted. But addressing these challenges will take determination and sensitivity.
“My point is not that we should be pessimistic about making a difference (as soon as possible) to heal the planet, ecosystems, society, and institutions — quite the opposite,” Burke said “Rather, we need to understand and embrace the idea that worthwhile change of complex systems requires commitment, persistence, and a sense of urgency, and at the same time, a deep and wise application of strategy and patience. Healing takes time.”
The Class of 2023 celebrated their commencement Monday, first with a Yale-wide ceremony at the historic Old Campus with Yale College and a dozen graduate and professional schools, and then an afternoon ceremony at Kroon Courtyard during which they received their degrees from YSE faculty, participated in a pinning ceremony, and attended a luncheon.
This year’s class included 87 Master of Environmental Management graduates; 36 Master of Environmental Science; nine Master of Forestry; two Master of Forest Science; 28 joint degree graduates, and eight doctoral recipients. The doctoral students explored a broad array of novel research questions, including ways for harmonious coexistence between people and snow leopards and other carnivores in Tibet; bio-cultural landscapes of Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations in Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia; dissolved organic matter in temperate rivers; logging impacts on tropical forest ecology in the Congo Basin; social and cultural dimensions of environmental change in the rural North American West; remote sensing and the economics of sustainable development; functional effects of tree and shrub mycorrhizal associations on soil organic matter dynamics in forests; and diversity of herbaceous plants along tropical rainfall gradients in India.
The 2023 graduating class will be fanning out across the U.S. and the globe, taking on a wide array of impactful roles, including senior analyst in renewable energy finance with Cypress Creek Renewables, Heyman Fellow in the U.S. White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, associate in Carbon Free Electricity at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Conservation Law Foundation, chief officer of international affairs in New Energy and Industrial Technology Development in Japan, landscape GIS analyst at the Defenders of Wildlife in Washington D.C., and senior analyst and corporate development with Avangrid utilities, among others.
“I hope that you can be sensitive in your interactions, and though rightfully veryproud, deploy some humility about your degree in some places, and build bridges through respecting and seeing the good in others. We put our faith in you to lead us into a future where expertise is both critical and trusted,” Burke said.
Class Speaker Maria Jiang ’23 MEM/ MBA also challenged graduates to think about what it means to take time in a field that “seems to be running out time” to invest in climate initiatives.
Jiang, who is focusing on clean energy solutions, said YSE gave students a special gift that will help carry them forward — community.
“In the face of incredible societal challenges, that’s what we have — community — a measured and thoughtful community that gives so much to each other, to prospective students, to friends, family, and mentees, who in the face of incredible pressure, real or manufactured, will never stop caring for each other, and the environment,” Jiang said.
Class speaker Te’Yah Wright ’23 MEM told fellow graduates that they should continue to work to ensure that marginalized voices are heard, and no one is left out.
“Many of us have had to overcome challenges and struggles just to be here today to learn how to improve our communities back home. The hurdles and barriers for our BIPOC, first-generation, low-income, LGBTQIA+ peers, and Indigenous scholars, who are still largely absent in this space, should not be overlooked,” said Wright, who was a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar at YSE. “We should depart here today standing in solidarity with one another. …Be agents of change who amplify marginalized voices, dismantle systemic barriers, and create inclusive spaces where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.”
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Reflecting on their time at YSE, several graduates said they felt optimistic about the future despite the challenges of the field.
“I definitely think through attending YSE I am much more optimistic and grateful to be able to do this work. I can see how my research can serve as a solution toward the issues we are facing, especially around food insecurity and people not having access to safe and culturally desirable food. I am much more optimistic, and it wouldn’t be possible without YSE,” said Destiny Treloar ’23 MESc, who will be continuing her research in food access in Latin communities as a doctoral student at YSE.
Nisreen Abo-Sido ’23 MEM, who studied food systems and small farmer livelihoods, said she is buoyed by the diverse graduates at YSE who will be bringing their perspectives and skills to environmental issues.
“I’m really hopeful because I am in a cohort of people who are passionate in addressing different angles of environmental problems. I’m just excited to see how this field can continue to diversify. Formalized study of environmental studies needs more people of color and I think that YSE is doing a great job listening to student feedback and integrating that in who they are admitting and the kinds of conversations we are having,” she said.
Fredrick Addai ’23 MF, who is going to work with YSE’s Environmental Leadership Training Initiative on tropical forest restoration and agroforestry after graduation, echoed the optimism.
“The current state of the environment seems very scary, but with the knowledge I’m getting from here and after seeing what friends and faculty are doing, I think the future of the environment is very bright,” he said.