Television host, conservationist Jeff Corwin meets, mingles, and addresses Unity College Class of 2018
“Yes Virginia, there is climate change. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed and told the stories of the creatures who are impacted by climate change.” — Conservationist and TV host Jeff Corwin
Growing up just outside of Boston, the only time Jeff Corwin, an Emmy Award-winning conservationist and TV host, got the opportunity to see nature was when he was visiting family elsewhere. When he was 6, staying with his grandparents, his passion for conservation was sparked when he discovered something mystifying underneath a log. At least, it was mystifying to a 6-year-old.
“It was long, it was scaly, it was legless …” Corwin hinted to Unity College graduates during his commencement address. Some graduates responded enthusiastically by shouting out “Garter snake!”
Though the snake latched onto a young Corwin, and his grandmother told him to get rid of it, he remained fascinated by it, even naming her Gladys. He studied the snake in her natural environment for two years. One day, while observing Gladys, his grandparents’ neighbor took a spade and decapitated her. He was devastated.
“That was the day I became a conservationist,” Corwin said. “That was the day I realized that good people make bad decisions because they lack information.”
For many of the young nature and wildlife enthusiasts, it was Corwin who helped them first discover their interest in becoming a conservationist. After a long day of school or exploring the backyard, what better way to round out the evening than by vegging out and exploring a much bigger world with Corwin as your guide? And for many of those kids, Corwin became a hero and an inspiration, showing them what they could someday become.
On Saturday, May 12, 100 students graduating from America’s Environmental College not only got to meet Corwin, they also received some sage advice as he delivered the commencement address. Corwin and Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury didn’t sugarcoat it for graduates, highlighting the many obstacles they will undoubtedly face as they embark on the next chapter of their lives, but reassured them that with their education and steadfastness, they have the ability to not only change the world, but to also change minds.
The excitement was palpable as graduates lined up to march in for the ceremony, and Erin Raatz, a Parks and Forestry Resources major just days away from a road trip to her job as a naturalist interpreter at Sequoia National Park in California, reflected on how fast the last four years went.
“Oh my gosh, I am so excited,” said Raatz, who was honored with the 2018 Trustees Award. “This came much sooner than I ever could have imagined, but I feel very prepared. And I feel like I’ve had the perfect launching pad, and I’m ready to go.”
Parents, family members, and loved ones whooped and applauded as the Class of 2018 marched into the crowded auditorium. “I’m astounded by your ability to pick yourselves up in the face of adversity,” said Dr. Khoury as he kicked off the ceremony. “It’s that resilience that has brought you here to this moment today.”
Not only did Dr. Khoury laud the graduates seated in front of him, he also had some kind words for Corwin, the guest of honor. “His television series have reached, moved, and inspired many, some of whom I know for a fact are among the 2018 Graduating Class of Unity College,” Dr. Khoury said before bestowing Corwin with an honorary Doctorate of Sustainability Science. “Jeff Corwin has helped connect an entire generation to the outdoors, to wildlife, and to environmental conservation.”
In addressing the graduates, Corwin gave them an overview of the bad news, as well as the good.
The bad part? Endangered or extinct species, black market wildlife trade, habitat loss, pollution, and the prospect of more plastic in our oceans than water. “The good news,” Corwin said, “is you. You are the solution.”
With a Unity College degree in hand, graduates become environmental ambassadors, wherever their career or further education may take them. “We know that sustainability and the environment are core tenets if our species is to survive over the next couple of decades,” Dr. Khoury reiterated in his speech. Just as the students will broaden their reach and go far, he said, Unity College will also be undergoing changes in the coming years — already having added Sky Lodge, McKay Farm and Research Station, and Distance Education. And, as the College grows, Dr. Khoury asked the Class of 2018 to grow, as well, and to visit and advocate for Unity College as they do so.
“We also leave here, with peers, staff, and faculty who’ve become our family,” added Autumn Kanakis (‘18), President of the Student Government Association and recipient of the Faculty Award. “We’ve all become part of each other’s support systems, as we take our next steps forward.”
Corwin concluded: “I believe someone here has hope to do incredible things in their future. All of you — the next generation of environmental stewards — have the hope to move forward, and as you do, remember: Explore the world, find your own adventure, and make a difference. We’re counting on you.”