It's graduation time, and thus also the time of the graduation speech, that strange ritual when someone important stands at a podium and bores the hell out of thousands of students and parents. The platitudes are endless, and who cares; every one knows the real message is an unspoken one, directed to the parents - a soothing assurance that if the university has the pull for such a famous speaker, their money these past four (or more) years was well spent. So why would I read Paul Hawken's address to Portland University's class of 2009 when it was sent to me via Internet? Just to impress the cute girl who forwarded it. You should read it because it finally does what speeches are supposed to: simultaneously slaps at your heart and kicks your ass. Hawken, environmentalist, author, inventor of the cool patio chair, exhorts those gathered to eschew the bank and the law firm and instead take a job with Mother Nature herself. "The earth needs a new operating system and you are the programmers and we need it within the next few decades." Only the rare cliché here - okay, he uses the word Challenge twice. But he has no use at all for that graduation mainstay, Potential. "Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required...Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after..."
Stephen Elliott is the editor of The Rumpus