You are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.Civilization's operating system, seized up by superstition, fear, ignorance and tribalism, seems destined to a harrowing ride toward extinction.
— Excerpt from Paul Hawken's commencement address.
While there might not be subsistence-wage jobs for graduates, there is perhaps an existential mission. Hawken's speech is titled,
You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring
The plea to reboot comes from the motherboard of rational thinking, self-awareness, and introspection.
Hawken's message is inspired by the sublimities that surround us:
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.
— Excerpt from Paul Hawken's commencement address
Earth's abundance has obscured the realization that civilization has been motivated by self-interest and ruled by ignorance and fear. Nevertheless hope springs forth with each generation.
They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
— Closing from Paul Hawken's commencement
- Commencement: Healing or Stealing? The unforgettable Commencement Address 2009, Paul Hawken, University of Portland.
- Best Environmental Commencement Speech Ever? by Paul Loeb, Huff Post Green, 2 July 2014.