In the keynote address by Lisa Jackson, she encouraged the Class of 2019 to “stay woke,” that is, to remain focused on what matters most.
Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives at Apple
“Seeing your work potentially undone can feel like failure. But it only becomes failure if you stop there. You have to find a new path. And if you can’t find one, you have to make one.”
Thank you Dr. [Md Rumi] Shammin for your kind introduction. A special good morning to President Ambar, Board of Trustees, faculty, administration and staff, my fellow honorees, and distinguished guests.
And good morning, Class of 2019!
Let me begin by congratulating you for getting started so early. Especially those of you who got up extra early to get the festivities started before this ceremony. That took dedication and commitment. And I hear the Feve will be waiting for you with open arms just as soon as we’re done.
Let me also give a shout out to some folks who I know are feeling great this morning — all the family and friends out there. This is a day that they have been hoping and praying for. So graduates, let’s give a huge thank you to the parents ... grandparents ... professors … mentors ... brothers and sisters... and everyone who gave you just what you needed when you needed it.
And because we are gathered here on Memorial Day, I want to express my gratitude to those who have given their lives in service, as well as the families, friends, and communities that mourn them, honor them, and carry on in their absence.
It is an honor to be at Oberlin today.
This school and its graduates have made the world a more just, more creative, more diverse, and more inclusive place. Oberlin is, and I quote, “one of the great colleges, not only of our nation, but of the world.”
That’s how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described this school when he gave the Commencement address to your graduating Class in 1965. Dr. King spoke to the graduates and told them they were not graduating into easy times. Sound familiar? He spoke about “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Or as we might say it now, staying woke. So yeah, Dr. King advised you to stay woke.
That is still what we need from you, Oberlin.
Because while the world might be more just and inclusive than it has been, we have not gotten close to justice and inclusion. We still need this school and its graduates to step up. Today, the voices of racism, misogyny, and hatred are still ever-present, and they are growing louder in too many places. While the job market has been growing for a decade, economic inequality has reached levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Gun violence is a constant, haunting prospect—after all, yours is the generation that has had to incorporate active shooter drills into your school curriculum.
Dr. King spoke at Oberlin a few months before the Voting Rights Act was passed. And yet, more than 50 years later, people are still trying to make it harder for more Americans to vote.
And of course, the undeniable reality of climate change looms over all of this. The climate crisis is already having an effect on nearly every major challenge before us. The longer we wait to act, the more it grows in its intensity and reach. It is my sincere hope that yours is the last generation that needs to hear about the unaddressed threats of climate change from your commencement speakers.
So yes, you are graduating into times of challenge and opportunity. But here’s the thing. Every generation faces their opportunities and challenges. It’s always the best of times and the worst of times. The battles—whether for freedom, or climate justice, or criminal justice, or women’s rights, or LGBTQ rights, or voting rights or human rights are always to be fought. If you’re not already engaged, it’s your time to join them. It’s your time.
Now I can’t tell you what to do to win your fights. And I can’t tell you how to get it done, but I do want to share three things I’ve learned along the way. Just three.
Number 1: Stay focused on what matters most.
That’s easier said than done. And it’s harder than ever with social media. Let me give you an example.
A few weeks ago the United Nations reported that one million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction because of human activities. The day the news broke, people on Twitter were outraged ... about a Starbucks cup that appeared on the set of Game of Thrones. But let’s see—on the one hand, a serious and tangible threat to life as we know it. On the other, coffee. In a cup.
Yo—I used to love Game of Thrones. And I’m still on Twitter. At least, so far. So I’m not trying to be the fun police. But I do need you to remember to stay focused. Appreciate the coffee cup humor. But also check in on yourself. Make sure you are spending as much time on the things that matter to you as you are on the things that advertisers ... and show runners ... and comedians and spin masters and manipulators are working to get you to spend time on.
Your time and how you spend it matters. Stay focused.
Number 2: - Practice being resilient.
You’re going to need to stay in the game. You see it’s about to get even more real. Along with all the joys and delightful surprises ahead for you, there will likely also be pain and heartache. There are going to be setbacks.
And truth is—you’re going to lose battles from time to time. The most important thing you can do is thank the universe every morning for what is good, and vow to recover and adjust to the failures and the misfortunes. Practice being resilient.
Now I’ve seen my share of setbacks over the years. But the ones that really hurt are those that have to do with public health and the planet. In the last few years, I’ve watched as environmental progress that took decades of hard work is weakened, rolled back or overturned altogether.
Achievements like cutting mercury and other toxic pollution from our air, which prevents 11,000 premature deaths each year. Like making cars and trucks cleaner and more efficient, which makes our air cleaner, uses less fuel, and pushes our technology forward at a time when we are in a global race to lead on electric vehicles. Like reducing carbon emissions from power plants, and making a meaningful advance against climate change while bringing online new technologies that could create jobs.
Those are just a few examples of things that are at risk right now. They represent an enormous amount of work by thousands of people who fought hard to do the right thing. And we thought we got it done.
Seeing your work potentially undone can feel like failure. But it only becomes failure if you stop there. You have to find a new path. And if you can’t find one, you have to make one. My new path has been at Apple. You see, at Apple, I’ve had the opportunity to help transition the company to run on 100 percent renewable energy to fight climate change.
And we’re working with suppliers so that together we can bring over 5,000 MW of clean energy online to power manufacturing around the world — which is further advancing the global shift away from fossil fuels. We’ve established forest management projects in the United States and China, and mangrove restoration efforts in Columbia to strengthen some of nature’s most important tools in the battle against climate change. We’re moving away from plastics in our packaging, and we’ve set ambitious goals to make new products from the materials we recover and recycle, instead of mining raw materials from the earth.
We think it’s important not just to think about making products people want to use well into the future, but also to make them in a way that protects our shared future on this planet. So, after a 25-year career in public service to the environment, I joined Apple to continue my life’s work—and that means I’m still very much in the game.
So practice being resilient. I can assure you that a cause you believe in, combined with righteous outrage, is one of the greatest sources of renewable energy there is.
Number 3 - Endeavor to serve.
On this day, it’s especially fitting to remember this. Remember that it all comes down to making a difference in individual lives. It’s great for that to be scalable, but it’s meaningful whether you help one person, or one million.
My father was a mailman. He took that job of delivering the mail as an act of service to those on his route, and he was the first person who showed me how important and rewarding that can be. He rang the bell if there was a package or a check in the mail. He knew people by name and he endeavored to make their lives better.
My dad’s lessons served me well in some of the first experiences I had with the EPA, working in communities dealing with heavily polluted Superfund sites. There were no hierarchies and no politics in those communities. It was simply moms and dads and doctors and teachers, worried about their health and their kids’ futures. Those experiences have been a constant reminder that behind all the data and the policies and politics of our every day jobs are people’s lives.
For me, clean water means preserving a communities’ well being and sense of place. Clean air means children with asthma can play outside, focus on school, and their families can have a normal day.
When I was little I wanted to be a mail carrier just like my father, because I wanted to serve and be the hero he was to so many people. Now I didn’t go that route. But the EPA headquarters in DC is set up in the building where the Postmaster General once sat. Right outside my office was the seal of the U.S. Postal Service. I would walk by it every morning and think of my father. And I would remember this lesson: Endeavor to serve.
Let me close by saying this: If you’re going to save the world, do it together. You’ve just spent years living in close proximity to some of the most extraordinary people you’re ever going to know. Keep those bonds. Hold on to this community. And remember the three lessons.
Keep each other focused. Practice resilience by getting strength from each other. Serve this school community and the global community from the day you leave the campus. And in the (heavily modified) words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Stay woke.
It is an honor to be with you today.
Godspeed and Congratulations!