Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke about why the environment needs to be protected for contemporary people and their children’s future during his keynote address at the first annual Freshman Convocation last Thursday.
Faculty and staff members, administration officials, as well as CSUN students gathered on the lawn of the Oviatt Library to welcome and encourage new students as they begin their college careers. Student Services reported that 1,800 people were in attendance, 1,100 of which were students.
“This convocation foreshadows for each and everyone of you a commitment that signifies a graduation from California State University, Northridge. And for most of you that graduation will be held right here on this very lawn,” said President Jolene Koester, who was invited to speak at the podium by Vice President for Student Affairs Terry Piper.
Students would have certain characteristics after they leave CSUN and move on to the workforce, Koester said. Employers see CSUN students as people who know how to succeed at work in the real world, she said.
Koester advised the students to “persevere and get involved, because this convocation is a prelude to your graduation from California State University, Northridge. I look forward to that event as much as I’ve looked forward to welcoming you this evening.”
CSUN Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Harry Hellenbrand introduced Kennedy. Hellenbrand reminded the audience that in 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
“What can we do for the environment rather than ask what it can do for us?” Hellenbrand said people should start asking themselves.
At the beginning of his speech, Kennedy gave examples of how he’s usually introduced when he speaks in other cities or states. Kennedy said he’s introduced as someone’s cousin, nephew, or brother. Here in California, he’s often introduced as Arnold’s cousin, he said.
Kennedy focused his speech on “how the environment and democracy are intertwined and the corrosive impact of excessive corporate power on American democracy and the environment.”
Three times throughout his speech, Kennedy pointed out that people shouldn’t protect the environment “for the sake of the fishes and the birds. We’re protecting the environment because we recognize that nature is the infrastructure of our communities.”
Many of the problems with the environment today are due to the current administration, Kennedy said.
“You can’t talk honestly about the environment in any context without speaking critically of this president and this White House,” Kennedy said. “This is the worst environmental administration.”
There’s not a problem with business people in the government, Kennedy said. But when there are government employees, such as the president’s environmental advisor, removing information from federal scientific documents that could be destructive to the oil industry or the coal industry, those are business people who don’t serve the public’s best interest, he said.
Corporate control of the media and how it affects the news Americans receive or don’t receive was another subject Kennedy discussed. There are a total of five corporations that control what Americans hear as news, he said.
“The news departments, which used to have the obligation to serve the public interest, have become corporate profit centers,” Kennedy said. “They are no longer serving the public interest.”
News organizations serve to entertain Americans rather than provide them with the news necessary to make reasonable and rational decisions, Kennedy said. Americans are the “best entertained and the least informed people on earth.”
The guest speaker talked about the ozone layer and how more people are being diagnosed with asthma as a result of coal mining polluting the air they breathe.
Air pollution caused from coal mines kills 18,000 people every year, which is six times the number of people killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, and occurs year after year, Kennedy said.
He said another effect of coal burning is the amount of mercury in the water. There are 19 states in which it’s unsafe to eat freshwater fish that have been caught in the state because of the mercury level, Kennedy said, citing a statistic from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site.
“In 49 states, including California, at least some of the fish, in this state, most of them, are now unsafe to eat because of mercury contamination,” Kennedy said. “In fact, the only state where all the fish are still safe to eat is Dick Cheney’s home state, Wyoming.”
In closing, Kennedy said Americans need to walk between the narrow trail of the domination of government by business and fascism, and the domination of business by government and communism.
“In order to do that, we need an independent press. We need an informed public that can recognize all the milestones of tyranny,” Kennedy said.
Another speaker at the event was a recent CSUN graduate, Jessica Beach, a 2007 Wolfson Scholar. Beach gave the students three messages about life as a college student, the first of which was that “college isn’t easy.”
Now is the time in students’ lives that’s a period of growth and discovery, and they should move through college with a passion and all the pieces will fall into place, she said.
She advised them to use the campus resources, particularly the faculty office hours. Beach also told students not be afraid to seek help from other students and to offer help if they themselves are asked for it.
At the close of the ceremony, Koester told students that the administration wants them to succeed, and that success means to graduate.
“It’s our hope that tonight’s convocation has given you an insight into the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for you here at Cal State Northridge,” Koester said. “We hope that you’ll find these opportunities not just in our classrooms, but in extracurricular activities.”
After the ceremony, the students were invited to the patio area of the Oviatt Library to stop at college stations to meet other students and faculty members.
Elizabeth Viramontes, a freshman criminal justice major who attended the event, said it was a fun experience and she was glad to be a part of the first annual Freshman Convocation.
Michael Assad, a freshman pre-cinema and television arts major, said it was nice to be a part of “the first of something.”
Assad and freshman psychology major Laura Alzaga agreed that being at the convocation made them feel like they were experiencing graduation. The ceremony was an inspiration to graduate, Assad said.
Alzaga said she enjoyed the event and it was very informative. She said it was nice to be able to see who the other members of her freshman class are.
Viramontes and Assad said they would like to attend the event again. Viamontes said she enjoyed the ceremony and would like to be able to watch it as a sophomore, junior and senior. Assad said he’s not as interested in seeing it as a sophomore or junior, but as a senior. He said he looks forward to seeing his progress during his senior year.
For additional pictures, click on Photo Essay