BRATTLEBORO -- The graduates of the Marlboro College Graduate School class of 2013 were told to be pragmatic and caring as they seek change in challenged and damaged world.
John Ehrenfeld, a former Marlboro College Graduate School professor and the former director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology, Business and Environment Program gave the commencement address Saturday to the school's 59 graduates.
Ehrenfeld is the the author of "Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture" and he warned the class that they would be leaving Marlboro and facing a world in need of profound change.
"Pragmatism is not efficient in the economist's sense, but is effective and it will get you through complex situations with less likelihood that you will create some situation opposite to your intention," he said. "Pragmatic methods force you to be both present and intentional in whatever situations you are involved with."
Not only do the graduates have to know the difference between right and wrong, he said, but they need to know the difference between complicated and complex.
He said complicated situations can be explained by understanding the rules which can be written down, while complex situations often lead to unintended consequences.
"The real world is not just some very complicated machine," he said. "The world can not be reduced to a closed set of rules. All systems that depend on human intentions are complex."
He said economies are built on the idea that humans have an insatiable need that leads to endless consumption and he encouraged the graduates to take what they learned at Marlboro to make the changes society and the natural world need to evolve and prosper.
"Need is only an invention," he said. "Like addicts we consume mindlessly. We never become satisfied. We always need more."
While he acknowledged the challenging road ahead, Ehrenfeld said the graduates should become the leaders who create positive change in the world and he said they had a responsibility to build sustainability into whatever they created.
"Regardless of which program you are leaving,sustainability is a topic that you will all have to pay close attention to," he said. "Your work at Marlboro will help you cope with that world out there. Whatever road you take I hope will have a bright, white, center stripe labeled "sustainability."
Ehrenfeld said that what the graduates learned at Marlboro should be practiced outside of the walls of the college even though it won't always be easy to challenge the norm.
"This is no easy task because the societal voices that bombard your senses keep saying ‘need, need, need,'" he said. "If you can silence these voices your authentic caring self will be the source of your intentions and actions."
Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell said the school's small setting equips the graduates to make real change.
"Here your education has a face, just as each one of you have a voice," she said. "Take the lessons of Marlboro College and be the human scale, values driven, managers, teachers, technologists, innovators, communicators, and leaders this world needs so desperately."
Kate McNally received her master's degree in Healthcare Administration and she said she has already used her Marlboro education to solve a real world problem
McNally works at the Cheshire Medical Center tobacco treatment program and she said she has already seen an increase in the number of referrals and in the number of people who ultimately receive treatment.
"I wanted to make sure we are using best practices for tobacco treatment so we have a program that really works," said McNally. "We are making a difference. We are solving a real world problem."
She said her supervisor has recognized that McNally is speaking a different language since attending Marlboro,and she said her classmates at Marlboro have been already making real change happen.
"My classmates are doing amazing things during an exciting and changing time in health care," she said.
Karen Trenosky is an administrator at Brattleboro Union High School and she received her master's degree in Teaching with Technology.
Trenosky said she came to teaching after failing to find work as a graphic designer and during her time at Marlboro she has discovered a renewed passion in helping students, teachers and administrators embrace technology.
She started at Marlboro, she said, because she was looking for change in what she was doing at BUHS and she was abe to create a new position at the school through her studies at the college.
"When I initially began graduate school I wanted to pursue my master's degree to go up the salary pay scale, but after a year and a half at Marlboro it has become so much more than that," said Trenosky. "My professional world has become so much different. I feel challenged and excited about my career, finally. Marlboro College has helped me define my new job at Brattleboro Union High School."
She told her classmates not to take the road less travelled, but to instead create their own roads.
"I challenge you to be daring and bold, to blaze your own trails," said Trenosky. "Write your own job description. I did it. And see where the road takes you."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.