Sarah Van Hoy Commencement Speech: The Nature of Ecological Mind

Sarah-Van-Hoy-2017-140x112To our graduates – Barbara, Brighde, Erin, Jojo, Ray, Shakti, and Tim – you brought your questions, your care for the world, your insights and genius, your very radiant humanity. We are moved by your work and we are honored to have supported you in that work for the past few semesters.

To the families of our graduates – given or chosen. Your invisible support makes all of this possible.

To the friends, alumni, fellow students. Your presence indeed makes this a beloved community.

To our Program Director, Ruth Farmer, who works so lovingly and tirelessly behind the scenes, thank you for your endless support.

We acknowledge, also, the Winooski River watershed and the land that holds us during our time here, and we acknowledge the Abenaki people of the Wabenaki Confederacy. For Abenaki, this place is N’dakinna, or homeland, the unceded territory where they have lived continuously for fourteen thousand years.

As we acknowledge and presence the relationship between first peoples and this land, we invite into our field an awareness of the arc of history inside which the moment of our commencement ceremony is situated. The history that holds us moves from the ancient Beech and Maple forests of Northeast Turtle Island, through clearings of land, language, bodies, and culture — through centuries of colonization, dispossession, and resource extraction, and toward the precarious and fragile present in which we find ourselves here and now.

A visceral acknowledgement of this history also reminds us that the dystopian futures that we seek to avert have in many ways already happened. We cannot avert future dystopias while keeping the current ones in place. As Potawatami scholar Kyle Powis Whyte states, “for many Indigenous peoples in North America, we are already living in what our ancestors would have understood as dystopian or post-apocalyptic times. In a cataclysmically short period, the capitalist–colonialist partnership has destroyed our relationships with thousands of species and ecosystems.” (And other scholars have added: destroyed social relationships and structures and replaced them with consumerism, white supremacy and cis-heteropatriarchy.)

These visceral acknowledgements remind us, finally, that colonization is not an historic event but a set of contemporary processes and structures that continually act upon our bodies, our minds, our desires. They are enacted upon our language and the ways we create knowledge and they are enacted through consequences of that knowledge-making.

A visceral acknowledgement, a presencing of time and place, allows us not just to cope with or strategize about or comfort ourselves, not just to rest in the self-satisfaction of privileged access to dwindling resources and cultures of appropriation – but to feel deeply and respond deeply to what is happening inside larger social and ecological bodies. We become permeable to our longing, to our own ancestral memories, to our grief and hope, and to our visions for possible futures. Futures in which we remember and restore our ecological body, resist the sometimes alluring forms that disconnection can take, and revive the desires and languages that connect us to ourselves and to our human and ecological communities and hold us accountable to each other.

In so many ways, our graduates are demonstrating this work for us. They are mending the splits that have resulted from colonized knowledge making in each of their fields, whether it be linguistics, or health care, or poetics, or education.

So here we are at their commencement.

And commencement is, after all, an ecological word. It signifies a beginning and an ending, a beginning within an ending, a seasonal transition between one form to another. So as a way of acknowledging our graduates and their magnificent endeavors, we will track them through the Goddard seasons as they transition into new forms.

Our Goddard graduates came to us with something like the seed form of their work.

trichodesma genus includes forget me nots-SVHSeeds are very cool magical packages of potential. They contain both memory and futurity. And they use complex sacred mathematics to supercoil their embryonic DNA into highly intelligent, poetic condensations. Seeds often require a little adversity –many require freezing temperatures, fire, wind, or journeys through intestinal landscapes in order to germinate.

Also, seeds have tremendous personality differences. If you have ever looked at them under microscopes (you can Google this) you’ll see seeds with all kinds of interesting costumery. Some seeds are simple and sweet, some are complicated and mysterious, all are magical.

Graduates, you brought to us the seeds of your work, the supercoiled hybrid memory-futures of your questions, your intentions, your longings — your potentiated essence woven into spirals waiting to be unraveled and manifested.

Now there may have been different conscious reasons for coming to Goddard.

  • Decades of life experience to recognize and build upon
  • Not wanting to wade through someone else’s curricula
  • Not wanting to take the same courses, write the same papers, or to reproduce the same knowledge that already exists
  • Not wanting to be processed by the academic equivalent of corporate agriculture
  • Realizing it might take three traditional degrees to hold all your interests (economizing)
  • Or experiencing Goddard yourself as an undergrad!

Goddard alum Kris Hege states: you come to Goddard “when your ideas can’t be contained by any disciplinary box and when your body knows what the world needs to know.”

Justin Kagan adds: “(and) if your question is also a call to action to see the world differently.”

Whatever the conscious reason, your seed’s desire was to actualize its vision. And you listened. You honored this seed knowledge.ivy leafed toadflax seed-SVH

So then what happened?

Well, a seed goes through its necessary adversity (heat, cold, digestion, poop, trips through airports, etc) and then sits in the soil getting wet and swelling up. The protoplasm is activated. The seed coat starts to loosen. And eventually (drumroll) a little radicle pops out. This radicle is R-A-D-I-C-L-E.

You may remember the moment when your radicle first appeared. Maybe it was in someone else’s graduating student presentation. Or the Embodiment Studies colloquium. Or a conversation in the dining hall. You felt a little tingling and all of a sudden … woop … there is was. The little radicle.

It is different for everyone of course. You had to trust the process.

The radicle came out and then started to grow and bury itself … it was to become your root system and this is why maybe you felt a little upside down.

This is a variety of embodied knowing.

You put your roots down into the soil of your inquiry and grow connections. You start to feel more and more anchored. The roots are branching out like crazy and you’re having all kinds of symbiotic relationships with various microorganisms in the soil, exchanging nutrients and whatnot, and while you’re at it you’re actually changing the nature of the soil itself.

((A little thing about plants here. They make and use serotonin, which for us is a neurotransmitter, though “the reality is that neurotransmitters predate the formation of nervous tissue.” Serotonin and chemically similar compounds like auxin, melatonin, psylocibin, DMT share a structure called the indole ring – a structure that is very good at converting photons to biological energy and thus it played a role in our planet’s shift to an oxygen heavy atmosphere.

In plants these indole ring compounds will tend to increase branching and growth and in humans they enhance neutral networks.))

((Incidentally, chlorophyll also has ring structures but it is different. Chlorophyll looks a lot like hemoglobin – if you replace the iron in blood with magnesium you get chlorophyll. ))

Materially and poetically, we can make generative connections between plants and humans and the nature of ecological mind. The capacity (materially and poetically) to make connections, to form nourishing relationships, to anchor oneself in the soil and to influence the soil itself – this is both an epistemological and ecological activity. Eduardo Kohn, in his book How Forests Think, suggests: “How thoughts grow by association with other thoughts is not categorically different from how selves relate to each other. Semiosis is alive.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the plant, while the roots are busy underground making connections, the rest of the plant is bringing this energy up and out – seeking sunlight, engaging obstacles, trellising oneself upon objects, including other plants, using math to structure itself, transforming (translating) light into biology or vision into meaning.

If Donna Haraway asks: “what can thinking mean in the civilization in which we find ourselves” our plant metaphors tell us that new forms of thinking create new worlds, new possibilities for life.

So in case anyone couldn’t figure it out, I am describing the botanical equivalent of writing packets … or theses.

And now, here we are. Our graduates have written their packets, written their theses, and yesterday and this morning we had the pleasure of seeing the fruits of those efforts in the form of their graduating student presentations.

For those of us who were present, I would suggest that we were witnessing, with each student, the unique blossom or fruit that has emerged from that very first seed that each of our graduates brought to Goddard at the beginning of this journey.

We have seen how they each embody their love for the world in their work. We have seen how each of them are addressing this history of colonization in some way – working with decolonizing translation, reconnecting love and medicine, working with language as a living body, bridging the apparent gap between language and music, exploring the deep ecologies of our gut biome, remembering breath and joy, creating new poetic forms for research. Their work is an unfurling of petals and tendrils, a ripening of fruits – sharing and nourishing and teaching us.

thistle of the centaurea genus-SVHIt is an incredibly vulnerable experience this flower and fruit business. It requires vulnerability to make yourself visible, and it requires vulnerability to witness someone’s beauty. But the reciprocity of visibility and recognition are essential to the fruition of knowing, doing and being. Together we have participated in this exquisite witnessing and listening, this sharing and recognition. This is the work of connection, of pollination, and of harvest.

And this is some of the juice and nourishment of belonging to a Beloved Community.

Speaking of Anishinaabe agriculture, and the practice of growing corn and beans and squash all together in one mound, Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us what the plants teach us: “The gifts of each are more fully expressed with they are nurtured together. In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps going.”

And so commencement. The end is a new beginning.delphinium larkspar-SVH

Our graduates will leave us. And their capacities to incubate, grow and share ideas in organic, purposeful ways are essential for the world, especially now and especially here. The world needs our graduates to envision and innovate, to make new connections, to implement and refine their visions, to teach, lead and build communities.

They leave us but with their seeds multiplied through this season of growth.

Anishinaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson says in an interview with Naomi Klein:

I think it’s about the fertility of ideas and the fertility of alternatives. One of the things birds do in our creation stories is they plant seeds and they bring forth new ideas and they grow those ideas. Seeds are the encapsulation of wisdom and potential and the birds carry those seeds around the earth and grew this earth. And I think we all have that responsibility to find those seeds, to plant those seeds, to give birth to these new ideas. Because people think up an idea but then don’t articulate it, or don’t tell anybody about it, and don’t build a community around it, and don’t do it.

So in Anishinaabeg philosophy, if you have a dream, if you have a vision, you share that with your community, and then you have a responsibility for bringing that dream forth, or that vision forth into a reality. That’s the process of regeneration. That’s the process of bringing forth more life.

So dear, beloved graduates:yanping wang-SVH

May the seeds of your potential, those magical packets of supercoiled cosmic mind, dripping as they are with the juice of this experience, be planted again and again and again.

May you respond to the pull of the sun and the warm wet earth beneath you.

May you not fear your own mystery.

May you trust your radical vision.

May you send out the most flamboyant blossoms into the world, seeking pollinators.

And may you find the communities that will Recognize who you are.

We are so grateful for what you have given us. Our hearts are full. We love you. We’ll miss you.


This entry was posted in Creativity & Imagination, Deep Ecology & Bioregionalism, Ecology, Embodiment Studies, Goddard Graduate Institute, Graduation, Health Arts and Sciences, Interdisciplinary Studies, Methodology, Sarah Van Hoy. Bookmark the permalink.

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