Wearing a little green ribbon during the 2007 Commencement ceremonies may not change the world. But, say MIT organizers of "The Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility," the effort might change a few minds. And that might start students thinking in new directions.
Something like that happened to Christopher J. Sequeira, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Technology and Policy Program, who is coordinating the pledge effort.
As a member of the MIT Student Pugwash organization--which encourages students to understand how their work impacts society--Sequeira learned about the graduation pledge in a lecture last fall from a professor who led the pledge in the 1980s.
"Maybe it's time to do it again," thought Sequeira, 24, who is graduating in February 2008.
The Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility was launched in spring of 1987 at Humboldt State in Arcata, Calif., by students then concerned about the nuclear arms race. The pledge itself 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 organization for which I work." Students recite the pledge and wear a green ribbon at graduation ceremonies.
The concept soon spread to other schools, including MIT. In 1988, the Coalition to Humanize MIT implemented the pledge in collaboration with the newly formed Graduation Pledge Alliance, Sequeira said. Pledges were also taken at MIT in the early 2000s.
Sequeira wanted to revive the concept. The 2007 effort was implemented by a coalition of MIT groups, including Pugwash, Muslim Students Association, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, Technology and Culture Forum, and Students for Global Sustainability. On May 16, MIT pledge-takers were honored in a ceremony and received certificates and wallet cards. About 50 of them--a mix of graduates and undergraduates from a variety of disciplines--will walk across the stage on Commencement on June 8 wearing green ribbons. Organizers hope to express to students that they can make positive impacts in the world by first being mindful of their actions.
The pledge now addresses nanotechnology, biotechnology, climate change and other issues. The goal is to emphasize that "science and technology are driven by human values and affect human values," Sequeira said, adding, "The nuclear issue hasn't gone away."
His work for Pugwash and the pledge has changed Sequeira's own mindset and challenged him to look at aeronautics in new ways, going beyond building a better airplane to aviation fuel efficiency, sustainable design and the impact of air travel on people and the environment. The new mindset "has opened up my job prospects a lot," he said.
He hopes to set the groundwork for other students to organize a larger pledge effort in 2008.
MIT's pledge effort web site is at sustainability.mit.edu/Pledge.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 6, 2007 (download PDF).