Published June 19, 2014
The UB School of Architecture and Planning welcomed 216 new graduates into its family of alumni on May 10, 2013, for the school's 41st commencement ceremony.
Graduates and their families, and guests from the university and community, listened to remarks from Bill McKibben, world-renowned author, environmentalist and educator who delivered the 2013 commencement address and received this year's Dean's Medal.
In his address, McKibben spoke to the escalating challenge of global warming and the urgency of action and policy change related to the climate crisis. He urged graduates to engage and push for change, calling the climate crisis "one of the central tests of your life, a test of both your skill and your character."
As founder of the global grassroots climate action campaign 350.org, McKibben has mobilized thousands of demonstrations and creative actions around the world to push for climate action and policy change. A leading American environmentalist and author, McKibben has written a dozen books about the environment on topics such as human population growth, the environmental consequences of the growth economy and how we can live more lightly on earth. In his first book, “End of Nature” (1989), McKibben makes an impassioned plea for radical change in how we relate to nature. It is regarded as one of the first books on global warming written for a general audience and has been printed in more than 20 languages.
In 2009, 350.org coordinated 5,200 simultaneous rallies and demonstrations in 181 counties in what CNN called the ‘most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.’ McKibben and 350.org have organized a relentless political campaign to stop the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, an oil conduit that would stretch 2,000 miles from Canada through America’s heartland.
“We were honored to bring to our graduates, faculty and community one of the most influential environmental thinkers and activists in the U.S. if not the world,” says Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “It’s a fitting send off as our graduates begin their futures as architects and planners who will need to shape our world in ways that are beautiful, healthy and sustainable.”
As part of commencement weekend, McKibben also engaged faculty members in the School of Architecture and Planning in an open discussion on elements of the school’s diverse portfolio of sustainability research. University colleagues and members of the community, including local environmental and policy leaders, also participated in the conversation. Organized by Dean Robert Shibley, the event considered the question, “what will Buffalo look like in 50 years?" in relation to patterns of development in the region and the planning and policy actions that are needed to support a more sustainable future.
The luncheon also featured the school's research on regional food systems planning by Samina Raja, PhD, associate professor of urban and regional planning, and efforts on climate action planning by Himanshu Grover, PhD, assistant professor of urban and regional planning. Raja and Grover are currently applying their research to a federally-funded initiative to build a sustainable development roadmap for Buffalo Niagara. That effort, One Region Forward, which is being led by the UB Regional Institute and Urban Design Project, was also a subject of discussion with McKibben. (Read more in the Buffalo News about the event).
However, McKibben’s connection to UB and the School of Architecture and Planning goes beyond a shared commitment to sustainability, to a personal level.
Subhashni Raj, a Fulbright Scholar from Fiji who received her Master of Urban Planning on Friday, has been involved with 350.org since 2009. As a volunteer, she organized demonstrations in Copenhagen in front of the United Nations Climate Talks. Before coming to UB, she helped lead 350 Pacific, a 350.org hub that works with Pacific Island nations, and worked to train young environmental leaders across the Pacific Islands.
Raj, who introduced McKibben at commencement, says her passion for climate action began with McKibben and 350.org.
“He is the inspiration behind my climate activism. He is the reason I am here at UB. It is very fitting that he be there when I graduate. It is my life coming full circle,” said Raj, who will enter the school’s PhD program in urban and regional planning in the fall to advance her research on food systems and climate action planning.
"Today, we recognize Bill’s tireless work to advance a more sustainable world through innovative research and teaching, path-setting leadership and a lifetime of selfless actions to improve our world."
- Dean Robert G. Shibley, in presenting the 2013 Dean's Medal to Bill McKibben
At the commencement ceremony, Shibley presented McKibben with the 2013 Dean’s Medal in recognition of McKibben’s lifetime achievements in advancing sustainable development across the globe. The highest honor bestowed by the School of Architecture and Planning, the Dean’s Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of extraordinary service or accomplishment in planning, architecture or environmental design.