Adapted from Meg Lowman’s commencement address presented at Appalachian State University for the class of 2012
Society labels you as Generation C – for “connected.” You grew up knowing Amazon as a website to buy things, not a river. Throughout your entire life, the International Panel on Climate Change has been in existence, plastic trees outsell real trees at the holiday season and the Internet has dominated your lifestyle.
At the new Nature Research Center in Raleigh, our cutting-edge science programs harness these new technologies to inspire the next generation of scientists.
The science surrounding your daily lives, graduates, is awesome and we can’t even begin to know the limits of what lies in your future. Because of science, great solutions will come from using the knowledge gained in your college years. Science is part of sports, fashion, economics, politics and even food – and you will contribute sustainable solutions to all those fields.
When I first climbed to the tops of trees with the aid of a simple slingshot in 1979, I discovered that almost half the world’s terrestrial biodiversity lives up there. Today, using technology, I can not only classify these species, but also help countries save their fresh water, survey medicines derived from these plants and track the movements of their pollinators.
Satellite imagery, radio collars, electron microscopes and Google Earth images provide amazing tools for my research on forest conservation, although admittedly I still rely on slingshots and old-fashioned ropes for some of my fieldwork!
Having spent more than 30 years dangling in trees all over the world, I have been inspired by how trees succeed against amazing odds.
Unlike animals, trees cannot run away from enemies. Instead, they have great strategies for success:
1. Stand tall and proud.
2. Appreciate sunlight and good soil.
3. Drink plenty of water.
4. Go out on a limb occasionally.
5. Remember your roots.
6. Enjoy the view.
7. Provide sanctuary for others.
8. Create and conserve green energy where possible.
Graduates, you too can harness your talents for solutions to global challenges and the sustainable use of our limited resources. Some of you may restock global fisheries, create safe and affordable mass transit in our cities or design an artificial leaf to manufacture energy from sunlight. Maybe one of you will find another Earth out in space.
In closing, I offer two words for each of you: solutions and trees. They are both lofty guiding lights – and with them, you will make this world a better place.