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Commencement Celebrates 'Stumpies...Because We Care'

ESF confers degrees on December graduates

Commencement in Hendricks Chapel

By Karen B. Moore

"If my time here at ESF has shown me anything, it is that what brought us all here to ESF is the concern over something greater than ourselves. Because in the end, we are Stumpies because we care," said Zachary Smith, student speaker for ESF's December graduation ceremonies.

"We are Stumpies because we care and we are passionate about the environment, but each one of us has something specific that brought us here," said Smith, an environmental studies major. "Each one of you came here with a dream that was uniquely yours that you were chasing." Smith asked his fellow graduates to hold fast to those dreams.

"When we are tired and feel lost or afraid of what tomorrow might bring, it is those dreams that we must return to keep us on course." (Smith's speech is available here.)

Smith's speech was part of the ceremonies held Friday at Hendricks Chapel, where the College conferred 187 degrees, including 40 master's degrees and 12 Doctor of Philosophy degrees. The ceremony also included the presentation of three Graduate of Distinction Awards and the bestowing of the President's Medal.

President Quentin Wheeler offered graduates four pieces of advice: be involved, do good, be tolerant and make a difference.

"I challenge you to not only accept change, but to create it. Identify needs in the world and bring about the change necessary to make things better," Wheeler said.

The President's Medal was awarded to Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs and founder of Planet Forward, a project that teaches, celebrates and rewards environmental storytelling by college students. Awarded at the discretion of the ESF president, the President's Medal recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to science, humanity and the natural world.

"I started Planet Forward because I believed we can use story - solid, fact-based but compelling story - to inform and inspire. To show people the inventiveness and the innovations that can improve our lives and our planet," said Sesno.

"We remember stories and we learn from them," said Sesno. "And we've been telling them since our ancestors scrawled on the walls of their caves, since Sophocles and Shakespeare wrote their first plays. In today's hyper-partisan, polarized environment, where science itself is often misunderstood and misrepresented, stories can connect us."

"So that's my request of you," Sesno said. "Connect us. Be storytellers. Bring people along on your journey. Share your experiences. And your setbacks, your goals, your triumphs. Pick your platform but engage."

Three alumni were also honored during commencement. Graduate of Distinction Awards were bestowed upon Thomas Balsley '68, Dr. Thomas Moorman '91 and Dr. Isabel A. Munck '02.

Balsley was honored with the Graduate of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award.

For 40 years, Balsley has been on the leading edge of landscape architecture. Best known for his creative fusion of landscape and urbanism in public parks, waterfronts and plazas throughout the U.S. and abroad, he has won more than 80 national awards and earned the 2015 National ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architecture) Design Medal. His more than 100 New York City parks, plazas and waterfronts include Balsley Park, named in recognition of his design contributions to the city.

In addition to regular speaking engagements at conferences and universities, including Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Balsley returns to ESF often to share his knowledge with the next generation of landscape architects.

Moorman was the recipient of the Graduate of Distinction - Notable Achievement Award. Through his work at Ducks Unlimited (DU) Moorman has advanced waterfowl conservation science.

As chief scientist at DU, Moorman is involved in national and international conservation, and science and policy issues, and is the lead science contact in DU's work on wetland protection and the Clean Water Act. Moorman's contributions include designing wetland restoration projects, developing conservation strategies and overseeing the acquisition of funding.

He received numerous awards related to his impact on wetland and waterfowl ecology. As an environmental and forest biology (EFB) major, Moorman received the Wilford A. Dence Fellowship, which recognizes a graduate student with an exemplary record and potential for a successful career in wildlife and fish biology and conservation.

The Graduate of Distinction - Incipiens Quercu (young oak) Award - was presented to Munck. The award is given to a recent ESF graduate who exemplifies ESF's commitment to environmental stewardship.

Munck translates science into practice. After completing her master of science in environmental forest biology forest pathology and mycology at ESF, she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research explained the emergence of a destructive threat to forests, and contributed to changes in how forest health is maintained.

Working as a forest pathologist at the Durham, New Hampshire, field office of USDA Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, she forged new relationships among academics, government agencies, forest managers and the public.

Her work on white pine blight and white pine blister rust fungus resulted in a USDA multi-state research project on eastern white pine health issues.