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‘SIT moves us to action’
Text of the address by Student Speaker Domenique Ciavattone at SIT's 56th commencement
August 14th, 2022
It is such an honor to be here. What a journey this has been. We have all traversed different countries and topics, during an ongoing pandemic. We have adapted to new places and cultures (or familiar places with new ways of being).
We have written countless papers, read hundreds of articles and books, done fieldwork, learned languages, navigated group and social dynamics, stayed connected to loved ones -- all while being mentally, physically and emotionally pushed to our limits.
We have also had the weight of the world on our shoulders (or so it often feels).
By the very nature of SIT, we have all chosen degrees and paths in which we tackle some of the greatest threats to our earth. From climate change and sustainable development, to diplomacy, international relations, international education, service and leadership, global health, humanitarian assistance and crisis management. Just minor things… But we study these subjects, immerse ourselves in these topics, because we care.
When my class was in Isafjordur, Iceland, we learned about some devastating things that were happening in the U.S. and across the globe in relation to women’s rights, racial and gender injustices. In class, we had just discussed the permanent loss of permafrost and the devastating impacts of glacial ice melt. I was also hearing stories from my friends in rural Tanzania who were experiencing a massive drought and could not produce food for their families.
It was deeply overwhelming, maddening and crushing.
On one particularly heavy afternoon, a few of us went to the local hangout spot, Dokkan, to process. I personally felt like I wasn’t doing enough to stop this world from hurdling into oblivion. I felt so small and helpless.
We just have to pick up a metaphorical broom and start sweeping our own street. Just sweep. It may only be one small area, yes, but we then have to trust that others are also picking up brooms and sweeping other streets.
Then, my classmate Jamie Matthews shared something she had learned from a teacher in the past: we just have to pick up a metaphorical broom and start sweeping our own street. Just sweep. It may only be one small area, yes, but we then have to trust that others are also picking up brooms and sweeping other streets. I, we, cannot change the world on our own, but we can do it together, with passion, compassion, rage, hope, action, and ultimately trust in each other.
But there I was in Iceland, spending my days studying, learning, experiencing. I was not marching, petitioning, or advocating. I felt like my broom was tucked away in a closet somewhere, and I was doing nothing to contribute to the fights for change.
Then, my wise professor, Jill Welter, reminded me that I was there, studying climate change and global sustainability, so that I could build a bigger, more effective broom.
With the privilege of this degree, and all of the life-altering, eye-opening experiences that come along with it, we are building even more robust toolkits to effectuate change.
With the privilege of this degree, and all of the life-altering, eye-opening experiences that come along with it, we are building even more robust toolkits to effectuate change. I say this while also fully acknowledging that formal education is not by any means the only way to learn and advance. It is simply one way that we, as graduates at SIT, have chosen to build ourselves.
While programs like ours at SIT Graduate Institute expose so much devastation and pain in our world, they also reveal the beautiful, joyous, empowering and loving realities of our current existence. SIT cultivates spaces for all of it– to hold the pain and the joy simultaneously.
One of my favorite activists and writers, Adrienne Maree Brown, wrote in her book Pleasure Activism: “Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom.”
She also said, “Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy.”
“What we need right now is a radical, global love that grows from deep within us to encompass all life.”
There have been so many moments of happiness and connection throughout my time with SIT – hiking 2 and a half hours through waist-deep water in the Ecuadorian Amazon to glimpse an extremely rare harpy eagle chick, and then calling to pink dolphins as they followed us down the river.
Watching a massive whale pop up next to our boat while sampling phytoplankton in Iceland.
Passing potatoes around a circle after cooking them in a wathiya earth oven on Dia de la Papa (day of the potato) in Peru.
Hearing stories from Waorani activists standing in their power and fighting extractive companies and governments.
Herding llama and alpaca and walking with wild vicuña alongside the formidable and majestic Mount Chimborazo.
Exchanging knowledge with Quechua farmers about ways in which we can bridge Indigenous and Western knowledge systems to co-create biocultural innovations in order to combat climate change.
SIT provides experiential, immersive learning programs that allow us to challenge ourselves and the status quo, to connect with people across the globe and build networks of solidarity and support with others who are standing up to injustices. SIT values all voices and encourages different ways of knowing and thinking. SIT moves us to action.
So, class of 2022, I ask you all to pick up your bigger, more robust brooms, and sweep with me. Together, we, along with all of the former and future graduates of SIT, our faculty, staff, teachers, mentors, community partners, families and friends can re-conceptualize our world, engage in radical, global love, and create true change.