Posted by Sophie Sokolov, Social Media Coordinator, Team North Shore.
“You’ve all worked so hard to get to this point, and now the world is your oyster, do what you love! Congratulations Newton North High School Class of 2014!” And with that we all threw our caps in the air, readying ourselves for our sparkling futures and, more immediately, for pictures with our families.
Or at least- that’s how I imagine my high school graduation might have gone, had I attended. Instead, that night I sat in a farmhouse with almost 30 other students from across the country and learned about using stories as acts of resistance against the fossil fuel industry. Skipping my high school graduation to come to Climate Summer was a bit of a no brainer.
Here, at Camp Wilmot I learn the tools necessary to fight an oppressive system that threatens life as we know it, all the while surrounded by people who inspire me; while at my graduation, I would have waited for a few hours to hear speeches and receive a piece of paper. For many other students, this paper is an accomplishment more than worthy of praise – a momentous occasion. I want to acknowledge that I am incredibly privileged to feel that my graduation is expected rather than earned.
Nevertheless, I am quite uncomfortable with many of the sentiments that permeate graduation speeches, particularly the notion that as educated, privileged students we should simply go into the world and do what we love. When Steve Jobs spoke to Stanford University a few years back, he echoed this sentiment, presenting his own story as a triumph for his love of innovation, but he did not address the countless people unable to pursue “lovable” careers as a function of his own successes. Moreover, this sentiment places labor that is supposedly based upon love above that which is not, serving to elevate the work of those who are already privileged over the work of those who are not. The fields we understand as works of love tend to be in the so-called creative sector, careers that are often dependent upon unpaid interns, who must be able to pay for their own living expenses, and thus only represent a lucky few. When we tell our brightest students to do what they love, we ask them to perpetuate their privilege while simultaneously demeaning the work of those less privileged.
Rather, as Igor Vamos of the Yes Men argued in his commencement speech to Reed College, students should engage in the often difficult work of resisting the oppressive systems that may have allowed them to succeed, rather than advancing forward as a function of them. Students should do what they must, not what they love. In that sense, skipping my high school graduation was no small decision, but rather my realization of the necessity of action against climate change and my own obligation to fight it.
That being said, Climate Summer is also a privileged place. I am lucky to not have to earn money this summer, lucky to have places to stay, and lucky to be able to afford a bicycle and gear, lucky to be able to do some fundraising to support this program that lends bikes and gear to those who cannot afford them. Nevertheless, the work I will do this summer is a part of the work I feel compelled to continue for my life, the work of fighting climate change, the work I know I must do.