Just before Earth Day, USC hosts Speaker Day

Community digs into environment

Jasper Green, The Rubicon Editor

We decided on the theme of environment because it is such a prevalent issue in our community,”

— USC member Emilia Topp Johnson

Sessions on environmental preservation and sustainability filled most of the agenda for the bi-annual Speaker Day on Apr. 21. Every other year, students spend the school day listening to speakers at this Upper School Council hosted event.

“As with each class that you attend at school, the hope of Speaker Day is that you will come away having learned something and having gained some perspective. And, this year, the hope is that students will become more aware of the environment,” McVeety said.

USC members determined the focus and schedule of the day.

“We tried to be as responsible as possible to student interests. We sent out a poll on the specific subjects relating to the environment, and made sure to cater to the diversity of subjects that people wanted. Learning how to plan events like Speaker Day was tedious yet educational, and while it was difficult to track down all of the speakers, I felt it was a valuable experience,”  USC member Emilia Topp-Johnson said.

As with each class that you attend at school, the hope of Speaker Day is that you will come away having learned something and having gained some perspective. And, this year, the hope is that students will become more aware of the environment”

— USC Advisor Jim McVeety

This year’s keynote speaker is alumni Eric Olson (‘82). His nonprofit, Business and Social Responsibility (BSR) works with Fortune 500 companies in order to help them reduce pollution and preserve the environment.  During his presentation, Olson talked a little about how his SPA education prepared him for what he is doing now, then talked about how opportunities and world events changed his path, then delved into what his company does.

“I think it is really important to help out the environment because without it, we will not be able to sustain ourselves and when we run out of our natural resources,” sophomore Lucie Hoeschen said.

From there, students and faculty attended 45-minute breakout sessions with two of the 28 speakers present for the day.

Each session covered a different aspect of environmentalism. For instance, Donna Goodlaxson spoke about agriculture, while Sarah Hobbie explained ecosystem ecology and the effects of nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River.

“At one of my speakers, I learned about fracking and how there are benefits but how mostly there are drawbacks to it, because people can get sick from the chemicals and even develop cancer,” Hoeschen said.

One hope of Speaker Day is that it provides connections to people and opportunities to take what they learn beyond the day.

“If students are interested in something a speaker covers, they could reach out to them and help by volunteering, or they could use the relationship as an option for a senior project later on,” McVeety said.

Part of the schedule also included watching Before the Flood, a National Geographic documentary starring Leonardo DiCaprio that focuses on the global effects of climate change.

Then, the typical Friday lunch menu o

f burgers and fries was replaced with a meal of dominantly vegetarian, locally sourced foods.

The last two hours of the day were set for volunteering, a new aspect to the day.  Students’ volunteering consisted environmental cleanup at parks, whether it be cleaning up invasive species like buckthorn or garlic mustard plant, or picking up trash.

“It felt good to get outside today and help out the environment by pulling out the invasive species and picking up  trash,” sophomore Riley Teitel said.

One community service group stayed on campus and wrote letters with Betsy Daub, after a presentation on mining near the Boundary Waters.

Speaker Day has focused on a number of topics over the years, including Immigration and Cultural Diversity (2015) and Bridging Barriers and Overcoming Obstacles (2013).