Campus News

A Convocation of Visionaries

September 10, 2013
Marvin Krislov
Photo credit: John Seyfried

I hope you can join me at this evening’s Convocation in Finney Chapel at 7:30 p.m. to hear the thoughts of two of the world’s visionary environmentalists and leaders of the sustainability movement—Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson.

Having just one of these remarkable great thinkers, writers, and activists with us would be an honor. So this is truly a rare event. Tonight they will discuss with Professor David Orr what progress environmentalism has made over the past 35 years, as well as specific aspects of their work.

Wendell Berry, born and raised in Henry County, Kentucky, is a novelist, poet, essayist, as well as an activist and a farmer. His life and work reflect a deep love of home, an abiding fascination and reverence for nature, and the courage of his convictions. Mary Berry, his daughter, once wrote that when she was growing up on her family’s farm on the Kentucky River, her father “was always protesting something: wars, dams, strip-mining, airports, etc.”

Mr. Berry has written dozens of novels, short stories, poems, and essays. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He has received scores of awards and honors including the National Humanities Medal, and he was the 2012 Jefferson Lecturer. He is also a 2013 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. He has also received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Prize, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, to name but a few of his honors.

His books include the novel Hannah Coulter; the essay collections Citizenship Papers and The Way of Ignorance; and Given: Poems. Berry’s latest works include The Mad Farmer Poems. He lives and works with his wife, Tanya Berry, on their farm in Port Royal, Kentucky.

Wes Jackson, who was born and raised on a farm near Topeka, Kansas, is the founder and current president of the Land Institute. He is also a member of the World Future Council.

After earning his PhD in genetics at North Carolina State University, Dr. Jackson went on to establish and serve as chair of one of the country’s first environmental studies programs at California State University-Sacramento. He then left academia to return to Kansas, where in 1976 he founded the Land Institute in 1976, a nonprofit organization that currently describes its main goal as the development of “Natural Systems Agriculture”; it also publishes The Land Report, a newsletter about American sustainable agriculture and agrarianism.

Dr. Jackson also has received numerous awards and honors for his work in sustainability. He has been a Pew Conservation Scholar and a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius grants. He is recognized as a leader in the international movement for a more sustainable agriculture. Dr. Jackson has also written several books, including Becoming Native to This Place, Consulting the Genius of the Place, and most recently Nature as Measure.

I’m especially pleased to have these gentlemen as our guests because their presence will help raise awareness of the importance of sustainability and the need to combat climate change.

As many of you know, Oberlin—college and town—have been working together in those areas and have made significant progress in recent years.

Our efforts center on the Oberlin Project, a joint effort of the city of Oberlin, Oberlin College, and private and institutional partners to improve the resilience, prosperity, and sustainability of our community.

The project, founded by David Orr, is one of four partners in the Clinton Climate Initiative to achieve worldwide status. Our goal it to transform our socioeconomically diverse town in the Rust Belt into a model of sustainable, zero-carbon economic development centered on education, the arts, and local agriculture, forestry and food production. Developing a 13-acre Green Arts District in downtown Oberlin at a platinum-LEED level is one of the project’s key initiatives.

We believe the Oberlin Project will also create a kind of living laboratory for the 21st century in which students develop their academic abilities, creativity, and leadership while engaging in interdisciplinary fashion with environmental issues. Searching for solutions to the pressing issues of the day is what Oberlin has been about since its founding in 1833. That same ethos has been a driving force in the lives of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and David Orr. So I encourage everyone to come tonight to hear what they have to say.

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