Welcome and I am delighted that we can gather here today to commence on a year long journey that leads us to celebrate this, the 60th year of Sterling.
Among the most essential characteristics of any place-based community is an appreciation for the history of the community itself: to have an active reverence for its elders and those who have stewarded the community, our fields, forests, farms, halls of residence and classrooms.
There is something remarkably un-common about our place on this Common.
It is simultaneously a place that fosters a radical reinterpretation of the human place in the natural world, the importance of community, and one that sustains a conservative outlook on the preservation of an iconic place.
In my travels outside this community, I regularly meet with the elders of our community and alumni and friends of all generations, who are grateful and continue to be inspired by the work of the faculty and staff of the College.
One way in which alumni and friends express their support and confidence in the ongoing community is through their gifts.
We are gathering this morning in Simpson III – soon to be renamed The 1958 Room in honor of Sterling’s founding year, through the support of a single pioneering graduate who wishes to express his gratitude for the way in which Sterling changed his world view.
This space is a celebration of this College. I hope each time you enter it, you’ll feel the connection to our history and that it will enrich your learning experience.
In a few weeks we will also begin work on another new campus facility for rural arts and crafts – woodworking, ceramics, fiber, and studio space – also supported by gifts from alumni and members of the Craftsbury community, and the community, as a whole.
There are, including those students who are in California and those who are on leave, 140 students at Sterling today and 50 faculty and staff. This community both sustains itself each year and is also sustained by its history.
I promise, this isn’t a lesson in collegiate economics, but rather a tale of love and hope. One quarter of the cost of a Sterling education is supported by our donors – trustees, friends, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and even students.
We will only create in this year together 1/60th of the annual history of Sterling. Our forbearers are in this deeply with us, because they think you, the students, are important to the future.
Don’t forget that each day you spend here is connected to that longer story.
I know from many conversations with those who support Sterling that they hope that you will live rewarding lives on your own terms, that you will empower yourselves to take responsibility for yourself, your relationships, and that you will find inexpressible joy in hard work.
For the health of our community, it is also important that we hear the voices of others, outside of the College. Our community week speaker on Thursday evening will be Dr. Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces. I hope all of you will attend her talk about race, racism, and the environmental movement. In December, I will be leading a symposium, sponsored by Chelsea Green Publishing called, “Surviving the Future” with several authors who are looking at the economic and social implications of today’s market economy, among other speakers, we will conclude this academic year with scientist, author and founder of the Land Institute, Wes Jackson.
During our summer celebration of the start of our 60th year, we were honored to have Wendell Berry on campus to announce a new educational partnership with the Berry Center, an innovative project that will involve Sterling offering programs in Kentucky and which we will be able to describe to you in greater detail in the coming months.
In my most recent visit to the Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, I had the opportunity to describe Sterling. In doing so, I talked about the people in this room and the lives I see you living today and in the future as environmental stewards.
I also came to appreciate Wendell Berry’s perspective that stewardship represents an act of love and that environmental stewardship is nothing more than the love of a place you understand deeply. Whether that is a forest, a city, a village, a community, or even a college, you cannot truly love a place you are not simultaneously seeking to know and understand.
After describing Sterling, Wendell’s first question was about Sterling graduates. He asked me: “Are they happy?” It took me a few seconds to reflect and respond, not to mention overcoming the experience of being asked such a question by Wendell.
In this market driven global economy, higher education, and presidents, almost exclusively measure the efficacy and outcomes of a college education empirically, disregarding the philosophical, the spiritual, and other lenses that help us interpret the human experience.
Using this single lens governments look at the coins of the realm. How much does one make and how much does one contribute to a carbon fueled consumer economy that must grow larger each day to satisfy the desires of a few, at the expense of the many, and at the cost of desecration of place.
When Wendell asked about happiness, he certainly included joy in the mix, but happiness also requires an acceptance of responsibility. To be happy, we need to embrace both our place in community and our duty of self-responsibility, which is, in large part, what the elders and supporters of Sterling, who make our presence here today, possible, want for you.
That you will appreciate doing hard work more than the opportunity not to do it. That you find happiness and joy in your responsibilities and that you commit yourself to love of place – to be an environmental steward.