UNITY, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins preached to an enthusiastic choir Saturday afternoon when she urged the 90 members of the Unity College graduating class to keep working for the environment.
“Unity grads already know that the key to making a difference is to get involved,” Collins said. “The impact of your actions will make a difference today and for seven generations to come.”
Collins was the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony, which school officials said was their environmentally greenest ever — and among the greenest in the country.
In her speech, the senator said that for these students, “sitting on the sidelines cannot be an option.” A group of students planned to present her with a letter advocating action for climate change legislation.
“You must be advocates and activists for the causes you believe in,” she said. “Climate change is the most significant environmental challenge facing our planet.”
Collins spoke of her 2006 trip to Antarctica and New Zealand to see the effects of climate change, including visiting the location of a melted glacier.
“It was truly remarkable,” she said. “Clearly we must develop reasonable solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Congress must take meaningful action on climate change.”
One necessary — and possible — change is reducing the global generation of common soot, she said. Soot-reduction is “low-hanging fruit,” much easier to deal with than emissions from fossil fuels, Collins said.
“Since we all contribute to global warming, you can and should make personal choices that reduce your impact,” she told the students.
College President Mitchell Thomashow said Collins was selected as the speaker because she “understands the environment and transcends party lines.”
“In times of controversy, Senator Collins demonstrates that people can work together,” Thomashow said, “and that democracy is alive and well.”
The president also bestowed an honorary doctorate in environmental leadership and social change on Mwalimu Musheshe, the chief executive officer of Uganda’s African Rural University for Women.
Musheshe spoke of some of his country’s challenges and opportunities, and the “few but profound” strategies of his work.
“We want to narrow the gulf between what is and what should be,” Musheshe said. “[Former dictator] Idi Amin destroyed the economy, destroyed the social fabric and lifted Uganda into a state of powerlessness. We want to work together and transcend the traditional prejudices caused by tribal, political and gender differences.”
Unity College gave honorary bachelor’s degrees in Technologies for Rural Transformation to 21 women at the rural university.
After the ceremony, the new Unity graduates milled around the campus, hugging family members and celebrating with friends.
“I’m relieved,” said Daniel Lapolla of Cumberland, R.I., a conservation law enforcement major.
“We are so proud,” said his mother, Jane Lapolla.
Peter Knipper of Princeton, N.J., said he was planning to do a yearlong internship in New Mexico.
“I’m feeling very excited and happy,” Knipper said. “It’s a new step in my life.”