My first year of college at the University of Colorado has been everything I thought it would be. The decision to attend CU was an easy one to make. It was effortless for my reasoning to conclude that, after going to school in Boulder for 13 years, four more could bring me nothing but happiness. As I write this essay, I think back on my logical choice and realize it was only that; logical. Although there is nothing wrong with being rational, I can’t seem to shake the feeling of wanting something more from my college experience.
This is the opening paragraph from my application for transfer to Dickinson College in the spring of 2009. I did not yet know what the “something more” I was after was, but I would soon find out that it was a simple three word phrase, a constant mantra, an expectation, and inescapable axiom at Dickinson: (If you know it say it with me *) Engage the world!
This is how I was engaging the world as an undergrad at the University of Colorado. It’s called a clicker, and each student is required to bring it to class so that the professor can take attendance and give quizzes. My smallest class was 45 students and I was a member of the largest freshman class in CU’s history—over 7,000!
I will never forget my first class at Dickinson. It was Monday morning, Spanish 116 on the second floor of Bosler. I had around ten students in my class and Senor Aldrich’s first order of business was to memorize our names. To say this was a new experience for me would be an understatement. It was refreshing, it was comforting, and it was proof that I had made the right decision to come to Dickinson.
Since that first day I became somewhat of the typical hyper-involved and enthusiastic Dickinsonian. But one thing focused my career at Dickinson, and it was the simple addition of a fourth word to my new favorite phrase: Engage the world sustainably. Those of you who know me are not surprised to hear this, and those of you who don’t might be realizing that I look familiar because I am the girl who is sometimes swimming in plastic bags on the Dickinson Homepage.
Well, before gaining eco-celebrity status on campus, I was just a girl who got teased for being a vegan and keeping compost in the freezer. But as I look back on my last three years as an Environmental Studies Major at Dickinson, I realize that learning to engage my world sustainably was the most important and lasting piece of my education and experience in college—and not only because I acted upon those words, I also found out what they meant. Let me explain.
My experiences at Dickinson have taught me that sustainability means having the capacity to maintain a healthy and thriving…fill in the blank. You all thought I was going to say environment, right? Well, this is the exciting part, and it’s what makes sustainability relevant and applicable for all of us and our majors of study. Social, economic and, yes, environmental systems are all completely interconnected when we talk about sustainability. We’re liberal arts students; we know how to make connections. So, there is the relevant part. Now, the application of this is where we tend to get overwhelmed, but you don’t have to become a farmer or a vegan to live sustainably. There are plenty of things anyone can do to be more sustainable.
Learn to see growth not only in a physical sense. Instead of spending money, spend time growing your (non-virtual) relationships and experiences. Emotional and intellectual growth is always sustainable, especially when you share it with someone else. When you purchase something, make sure it will last. If it breaks or wears out, try to repair it before you replace it. Consider the social and environmental consequences of any job you accept, and work to improve them with your time and experience there. If you are moving to a city, use public transportation. Support local business and buy local food.
Recycle everything you can.
As Dickinsonians, we have been fortunate to attend a college which provides ways for us to accomplish many of these things. I know it might seem like a lot to carry with you beyond the limestone-- living more sustainably will mean making conscious changes. But since when is change a new idea for us? Our graduation day is tomorrow, which means we are all facing what could be the biggest change in our lives so far. And so to my graduating class, I challenge and invite you to use this time of change to start engaging your world more sustainably. And should you choose to accept, I promise that your body, your community, and your planet will thank you for it.