2011 Commencement Speaker Sylvia Earle
“The sun shines on this class.”
Warren Wilson College President Sandy Pfeiffer was dead on target when he spoke those words right after the last of 197 bachelor’s degrees had been conferred on the Class of 2011 at Warren Wilson. And in somewhat of a surprise, his observation was accurate not just figuratively, but literally as well.
After a rainy Friday evening and dark clouds early Saturday, the sun began to break through just as the 2011 Commencement ceremony got under way. And over the next couple of hours the College managed to squeeze in another dry Commencement despite a somewhat ominous weather forecast.
The sun-favored Class of 2011 ended up as the second largest in Warren Wilson history, trailing only the total of 201 graduates in 2010. As Pfeiffer noted, the College’s newest class is a “diverse and ambitious group,” with job plans ranging from GIS technician to English teacher and travel plans varying from Cuba to Switzerland.
In her Commencement Address, oceanographer Sylvia Earle observed that the graduates will be going out into a much different world from the one she came from in the 20th century.
“I come from a different planet,” she told the graduates, referring to the fact that the world today is vastly altered from that of her formative years. For one thing, she said the world’s population “has more than tripled in my lifetime.”
“We seem to take the planet for granted,” Earle said, noting that over the past century humans have fully demonstrated they “have the power to modify the nature of nature. We have the capacity to eliminate species and ecosystems.”
The good news, she said, is that “for the first time, we can identify that we’ve got a problem. We have the answers; we’re the only ones who can figure it out.”
Because of that reality, Earle is optimistic about the future.
“I’m a hope-aholic,” she confessed. “We have a hope for the future, and this is the time; we can do something about it.
“We should prize who and what we are. The worst thing would be for nature to let us slip through her fingers.”
This year’s highest senior honors went to Hannah Jacobs, Pfaff Cup winner, and Victoria Wiener, Sullivan Award recipient. Top teaching awards went to sustainable forestry professor Dave Ellum (faculty) and rental/renovations supervisor Paul Bobbitt (staff). Chelsea Gandy was chosen by her classmates to deliver the class remarks, which included a quote, a wish and the story of her somewhat harrowing encounter with the Warren Wilson cattle herd. Her recounting of how she talked to the agitated cows prompted Earle to refer to Gandy as the cow whisperer.
You can view an online photo gallery by the Asheville Citizen-Times of the 2011 Commencement here.