Renowned Environmentalist to Speak at Graduation
Although Bruce Babbitt, this year's commencement speaker, may not be a household name, his ideologies are far more in-keeping with those of The New School and, on May 21, some graduating seniors may be surprised with what he has to say
As a politician and an environmentalist, Babbitt’s career has been varied. He served as attorney general of Arizona and then governor from 1978 to 1987, opting to make a failed bid for the White House in 1988. From 1993 to 2001, Babbitt worked under Bill Clinton as secretary of the interior. In 1994, he helped enact the California Protection Act, the largest land protection bill ever enacted in the continental United States. His "legacy," as Babbitt puts it, was the restoration of the Florida Everglades, which he fought for throughout his career at the White House. At present, he ischairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Federation and the chief environmental counsel for a law firm based in Washington D.C.
Babbitt said he is eager to speak at commencement because The New School has the reputation of challenging its commencement speakers. In 2006, many in The New School community were outraged that another Arizona politician, Senator John McCain, gave the commencement speech.
Babbitt is being challenged by his former constituency for his decision to work for a large law firm. “You have a tradition of mixed reception towards your graduation speakers,” he said. “It’s a great institution and I am pleased to be coming.”
In recent years, Babbitt has become one of the foremost advocates of green technology, emphasizing the importance of minimizing consumption on fossil fuels and consumption in general. “It’s important because if we’re going to change our political approach to climate change it has to start with personal change,” he said. He gave a few suggestions of ways one can avoid contributing to global climate change. “There’s a new LED light bulb on the market which is really awesome.”
He also has a realistic perspective regarding the current work environment for graduating seniors. “It’s not the best time in the world to be graduating. It’s going to take a fair amount of determination to set a career course and find your way through all the economic wreckage.”
However, Babbitt highlighted the fact that, at The New School, students are exposed to many perspectives on social and political issues that will be essential post-graduation. “Graduating with this degree, you bring a set of skills to the table which should take us away from this excessive concentration on individualism and the pursuit of wealth towards a broader political and social view of the meaning of community. That’s what your degree has written all over it.”
Seniors can expect to be engaged by the political-turned-legal environmentalist at graduation. Bruce Babbitt is not Alec Baldwin, but he understands the university and, more importantly, understands how education will effect the lives of graduating seniors after college.
“I think there’s a big market for people who can think across all of the narrow disciplines into a broader view of our political life and our future.”