Wisdom for My Son: Meet a New Friend on Meatless Monday

082814Graduation_OrigAs our firstborn prepares to head off to his freshman year of college, he and his friends are embarking upon an extraordinary period in their lives. They have grown into curious, competent, and motivated young adults at a time in history with tremendous educational opportunities. With their varied career and life goals, these young people are united in wanting a healthy future. Some students will translate this desire into dedicating their professional lives to creating innovative solutions for climate challenges.
 
Ryan and his friends have enjoyed the great advantages of growing up in a diverse community with strong commitments to education and a clean environment. Situated in a neighborhood next to Washington, DC, his classmates and their families are from all over the world. They have been immersed in advance placement classes, sports and band practices, and researching colleges. After SAT scores were tabulated, schools aggressively wooed these bright students over the last two years. We have now recycled tall piles of shiny recruitment brochures.
 
According to the Princeton Review, a school’s sustainability commitment is among the top criteria for prospective students when making their choice. Higher education institutions recognize that today’s young people expect that their school will reflect their values. Students want to gain expertise to help solve local, national, and global issues.
 
Our son will attend a northern public university with a long-standing commitment to sustainability. His friends and classmates will scatter throughout Virginia and beyond. They have sharp eyes on the future. They want strong academics and to graduate with minimal debt. They hope to be equipped for interesting and well paying careers that align with their aspirations. Of course, they also want to have fun.
 
Students are embracing opportunities to learn about sustainability issues in the classroom and on campus. They want to gain hands-on experience in creating solutions. Faculty increasingly integrate climate topics across many disciplines’ curriculum. Depending on the institution, today’s college students have opportunities to conduct energy audits, build net-zero energy homes, design on-site solar projects, install green roofs, plan net zero waste events, and encourage more local and seasonal food in the dining halls. Students, faculty, and staff are working along side each other to move their schools toward climate neutrality.
 
By embracing opportunities to elevate their leadership on climate solutions, higher education leaders are strengthening their students’ learning experiences and being responsive to their interests. A powerful example is the almost 700 presidents and chancellors who are signatories to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. These schools have made immense strides in moving toward climate neutrality and integrating climate issues throughout the curriculum. As a mother of a new college student, I am thankful for the exciting learning opportunities that these deep sustainability efforts will make available for our son.
 
My words of wisdom to Ryan: live your values. Imagine and work for a healthy future. Embrace your opportunities, laugh with your classmates, and get some fresh air. Appreciate your school’s sustainability commitment, and, while you’re at it, meet a new friend on meatless Monday! Last but not least, call Mom once in awhile!
 
Image credit: Andrea Putman

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