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Loyalist graduates search for meaning in Maude Barlow's speech

By Ashliegh Gehl


BELLEVILLE, ON. (06/10/11) Maude Barlow was the keynote speaker at Loyalist's 44th convocation on Friday. She reminded graduates of the environmental role they can play in their prospective careers. Photo by Linda Horn.

Keynote speaker Maude Barlow urged graduates at Loyalist College’s 44th convocation Friday to be mindful of the earth.

“I’d like to urge you all, no matter what your education specialty, or what vocation you choose, where you end up, where you live, to give some of your precious life energy and time to the great environmental challenges that face us all today,” said Barlow.

Barlow spoke to graduates from the schools of biosciences and human studies. She’s known for her role as the national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, an organization she founded in 1985.  Barlow is often called the ‘Al Gore of water,’ a reputation evident in her speech.

“Water is the issue I know best,” said Barlow. “Fresh water supplies are rapidly depleting due to a perfect storm of pollution, climate change, over-mining of ground water and watershed destruction.”

The speech left Tammy Forget, 48, a graduate of the Developmental Services Worker program, wondering about Barlow’s message.

“At first, myself and the people beside me were trying to figure out where it was going, how it related to what we were doing,” said Forget. “But it didn’t. It was still good, it was informative and I actually learned a few things.

Forget says she’s already mindful of her impact and teaches her children how to be environmentally conscious.

“Like she says, don’t say you can’t do anything because you’re only one person, but you just do your part and that’s all you can do,” said Forget.

Other students like Gordon Stevens, 30, a graduate of the Chemical Engineering Technician program, thought the speech was good.

Stevens said he doesn’t know if he’ll be using his training to help or harm the environment. With chemical engineering, graduates have the skills to work in the oil industry. They can also choose to put their training toward clean, environmentally conscious jobs.

Stephanie Embury, 26, is a graduate of the Social Service Worker program. She says Barlow touched on a lot of important issues around water that people in the Quinte region are well aware of.

“Pollution, the waste being thrown in.” said Embury. “We’ve seen it firsthand in the tiny little lakes that we have.”

Even Barlow’s explanation of contemporary environmental issues locally and abroad resonated with Embury.

“It definitely it is an issue in the economy right now, and I think she explained everything very well,” said Embury.

Barlow was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, the same year she won the Lannon Cultural Freedom Fellowship and Right Livelihood Award. In 2008, she was award the Citation of Lifetime Achievement Award.