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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

ESF Celebrates Graduates Virtually

Student Speaker Urges Graduates to Give a Voice to the Voiceless

By Karen B. Moore

In a speech laced with humor and poignancy, Zachary Warning welcomed people to "the first and, please God, only episode of Corona-mencement."

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) held its 119th Commencement virtually May 9.

Warning, the student speaker, encouraged his fellow graduates to use the power of storytelling to advocate for the natural world.

"I would be doing everyone a massive disservice if I did not present the massive power of storytelling … All it takes is a shift in perspective, a willingness to accept that the main character of this story maybe isn't us and an even more radical idea - what if there are characters that aren't even human? What if every living thing is the main character of its own story? It's a perspective very few people have because the implications are terrifying. But that's hands down my favorite thing about ESF: every one of us is here because we know humans are not the only characters of this story.

"Every class we've taken, every experience we've had in the last for years has been one unending training in how to give a voice to the voiceless, to defend things like soils, streams, and forests as if they have souls and identities … This is what makes ESF students one of the most potent forces for good in the world."

The ceremony also included a recorded message from SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnston. "All of us eagerly await your emergence as the leaders you were destined to be ... by working together we will emerge from this challenge stronger than ever. To do that, we will need your energy, your passion, your newly acquired skills and sense of purpose. I have no doubt that your SUNY education has prepared you well."

Interim President Dave Amberg congratulated the graduates on their tenacity, resilience and grace in the face of the challenges of the spring semester presented by distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. "We are truly living through remarkable times and you are and have been remarkable students," he said.

"What awaits you are incredibly interesting and awesome life journeys. Life journeys that will have a tremendous impact to improve our world. Life journeys that will be different, complex, interesting and driven by a passion for preserving our natural world," he said.

Graduate Katherine Miller presented the class gift, a sundial to be placed on the Quad "as a timeless reminder of the impacts COVID-19 had on the ESF community and the world, but also as a reminder that the time spent at ESF passes quickly but leaves a lasting impression."

Department chairs offered their congratulations before the graduates' names were displayed on the screen.

Scott Shannon, associate provost for instruction and dean of the graduate school, presented the names of master's and doctoral graduates. "The fact that you persevered through these difficult months, and along the way exhibited extraordinaire grit, will and resilience in overcoming unprecedented obstacles leads me to believe that each of you not only earned this recognition today, but that we should keep a close eye on where your careers lead you in the future … Each of you clearly stands ready to respond and adapt to uncertain times ahead."

Said Dr. David Newman, interim provost, in his remarks to the graduates, "Even though our world has changed, we still need people with your skills and passion. You have developed a breadth of experience and we need that now more than ever. I challenge you all to look past our current experience and focus on the next set of challenges that you are primed to be able to conquer."

The graduates were invited and encouraged to return to ESF Dec. 11 for an on-campus graduation ceremony.