by Kristan Korns
Every one of us, no matter who or where we are, has always had the power to change the world around us for the better. It was the desire to remind students of that simple yet powerful truth, that led Humboldt State University students to create the graduation pledge in 1987.
That pledge, which has since spread to over 100 universities worldwide, is simple: “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”
Andréa Tyler worked for Associated Students as the graduation pledge coordinator before her own graduation in 2005. She keeps the card in her wallet as a constant reminder of the ‘Humboldt spirit’.
“It’s a part of our school ethos, and represents the type of people that flock to, and are cultivated by, Humboldt’s unique culture,” Tyler said. “It’s a great testament to the kind of environment we have…to spawn or cultivate these really great ideas that have ripple effects.”1
The graduation pledge has been adopted as an optional part of graduation ceremonies by more than 100 universities around the world, from Harvard and Cornell in the United States, to the University of British Columbia in Canada and the Chinese Cultural University in Taiwan.
It hasn’t just been students who’ve been inspired to take the pledge. Faculty and staff members have also been encouraged to take part during graduation ceremonies.
Chris DeHardt, who works as an advisor on campus, said that he took the pledge soon after coming to Humboldt.
“It really is a lot about what we do in our professional lives differently, or consciously,” DeHardt said, “and I think that’s the real trademark of the pledge.”
Keyan Auer, an HSU senior majoring in Environmental Science, and the current graduation pledge coordinator here at Humboldt, agrees.
“It’s very symbolic,” Auer said. “There’s no obligation to an organization. It’s a personal pledge.”
Tyler, who since graduation has worked with a non-profit public transportation advocacy group, said that the pledge is about recognizing your own power to make a difference.
“Some of the environments I go into are much more right-leaning conservative, and others are left-leaning and liberal, but I think that something like the pledge spans that gap,” Tyler said. “It doesn’t require a super liberal environment for it to work in, because it’s about doing what you can within the environment that you’re in.”
For those who are interested in either taking the pledge or finding out more, the Graduate Pledge Alliance will have tables set up within the field house before the commencement ceremonies. Graduates are advised to arrive a little early.
“It gets to be kind of a chaotic event when everybody is lined up,” Auer said, “but the process with us is really about two minutes; just grab a card, sign it and keep it, and wear the ribbon in solidarity.”
While the process may only last a few minutes, the impact of the pledge on those who take it, and on the communities around them, is designed to last a lifetime.
DeHardt feels that ideas like the graduation pledge will spread. “Humboldt is an indicator community of where everyone else could be in 20 or 25 years in terms of social entrepreneurship and social change.”