Severn Cullis-Suzuki captivates York audience

The External Relations Department of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies sent the following article to YFile.

A capacity crowd of over 300 students, 50 teachers and representatives from 17 community organizations from across Ontario arrived at York on April 7 to participate in the “Change Your World” conference which was organized by the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

Left: Severn Cullis-Suzuki

The day started with opening remarks from FES Dean David Morley, who was followed by headliner Severn Cullis-Suzuki. The 24-year-old daughter of famed scientist David Suzuki was this year’s keynote speaker, providing motivational and inspiring tales about her passion for the environment.

Cullis-Suzuki captivated the audience with her hour-long presentation and slide show. She explained her early beginnings and interest in the environment with her trip to the Brazilian Amazon at age eight and the snowballing of her passion to protect the natural world. She explained the Internet think-tank she recently co-founded, named The SkyFish Project, and its “Recognition of Responsibility” statement, which encourages youth to commit to a sustainable lifestyle. Cullis-Suzuki closed her presentation by offering suggestions on how youth could change their world – these included getting outside, eating local, voting, and perhaps the most meaningful for the audience, standing up for what you believe in and “kicking some ass!”

Students were inspired and carried their enthusiasms into hands-on workshops, where ideas and opinions were tossed around and tested.

Left: Student-created displays reflected their environmental awareness and knowledge

For example, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority representatives explained water wasting and took participants on a search for water inefficiencies at York, while a representative of the World Wildlife Fund challenged students to find new ways to make a difference in their own lives. Exhibitors from more than a dozen non-governmental groups offered a plentiful supply of free information, advice and take-aways. Students from several GTA high schools displayed their environmental projects – including one school’s fish hatchery and plant nursery.

By the end of the day, the energy was tremendous. Building on this, Jennifer Corriero, master of environmental studies candidate and co-founder of TakingITGlobal, provided the final thoughts of the day. She offered very practical advice on raising funds for school projects, the use of the media and mass communication, and how to be a leader.

Right: Jennifer Corriero

In the evening, Cullis-Suzuki spoke to faculty members and alumni. “The interdisciplinary scope of York’s FES really impressed me,” she wrote afterwards. “I agree with the perspective that ‘the environment’ is not just about trees and animals –  it’s about economics, social justice, political structure and balances of global power. If human beings are going to make the transition to a sustainable way of living, the awareness of these interconnections is essential.”

Students gave the conference high marks in their evaluations. “Very inspiring” and “it opened my eyes” were typical comments. “It was so important to find like-minded students who were open to my ideas,” was another frequently expressed comment.

Left: Students participating in a game designed to promote their understanding of the environment

FES faculty hope that this is just the beginning for these students. As Dean Morley stated: “Talking about alternative futures will only happen if your generation, and the ones to come, have the courage to take the actions necessary to make the future different.”