UNITY, Maine — The 85 newly minted law enforcement and environmentalist graduates at Unity College were urged during Saturday afternoon’s commencement exercises to not give in to despair about the state of the world, despite recent ecological disasters.
Speaker and honorary degree recipient Kate Braestrup, a Maine Warden Service chaplain and best-selling author of the memoir “Here If You Need Me,” compared the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the Exxon Valdez “horror show” in 1989 which marked her generation.
“Whether you are an embryonic conservation law enforcement professional or a Birkenstock-and-socks tree-hugging environmentalist … I know that there really is unity in your diversity. Each of you loves the land, and each of you seeks to serve,” Braestrup said. “This has been a difficult spring for those of us whose attachment to the natural world is both love and a labor of love.”
She went on at length and with humor to describe her inclusive view of ecology, saying that to her, nothing matters more than love — and that she thinks people are not just a “bad rash” on the planet that needs to be cured.
“If nothing matters more than love then we should try to survive as long as we can, and love as much as we can,” Braestrup told the rapt audience of graduates, faculty, family and friends. “As far as we know, we are the only creatures that actually try to see, know and love the whole world — even if we aren’t as good at it as we would like to be.”
She brought the crowd to its feet in a sustained ovation with her final words.
“Let your heart be broken, by all means, by what we do to what we love, but do not despair,” Braestrup said. “Go forth, each of you, not as a zit but as a child of God. May the works of your minds, your hands and your hearts be blessed … may your life bring you joy.”
Her environmental message hit the mark with many in the crowd, and after the diplomas were handed out and the final notes of a bagpipe march died away, many in the Class of 2010 made a beeline for their families to greet them with giant hugs that were the opposite of despair.
Matt Zane of Freedom performed a complex and choreographed “secret handshake” on the stage with his father, Dean of Students Gary Zane, to laughter and applause.
“I’m pumped. I’m super-jazzed,” the parks, recreation and eco-tourism major said. “I love the people here. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
Zamir Twiggs was congratulated by his grandmother, Sally Robinson and his mother, Sonya Robinson, all of Philadelphia.
“I’m ecstatic,” Twiggs, the first in his family to graduate from college, said. “I’m bouncing for joy.”