Remarks by Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo
Education Sector Keynote
Hawai‘i County Sustainability Summit
March 5, 2021
Aloha kakahiaka and welcome to UH Hilo in this virtual space.
Earlier this week, I was at a board meeting for a non-profit in the state and we were engaged in a strategic planning exercise that asked us to envision Hawai‘i in 2030. The group was divided between the optimists and the pessimists. Will we be a better, stronger more thriving community or will we see an increase in the various social and economic issues that divide us? And then last night I attended one of our business classes and heard the energy and optimism of students, who were brainstorming alternate use for the UH Hilo Innovation Center downtown. There was so much hope in those discussions! I am in the education business, so I am among the optimists. If we are to thrive as a community, educating and nurturing our youth is the future. Can we overcome differences, heal past and present grievances and work together to build the future those our youth deserve? I believe we can, as I heard many calls to rewrite the narrative, and your very attendance at this event means you share that optimism.
Next month, it will have been 51 years since the first Earth Day was celebrated. Those of us who remember those times, remember the activism around several other issues: civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war. The late sixties and early seventies forever changed the United States. In the wake of that first Earth Day, more schools started teaching students more about ecology, the way in which each species on Earth is interdependent on an entire ecosystem and the way in which human activity can help or harm these ecosystems. Generations of school children became environmentally aware, nagging parents about the need to recycle, compost, buy high mileage vehicles, and myriad other actions that we somewhat take for granted now. The point being that education, what children learn, often drives all of our behavior. As schools began to teach more about ecology in the 70s, students came to colleges and universities with dreams to pursue careers that would help them protect the environment, dreams that we are still working to fulfill. I would not be in the career I am in if I did not believe that education plays a key role in just about everything we do. As I looked over the many types of sustainability listed in the summit program for these two days, I found that every item had some connection to the University of Hawai‘i, many of the items having a connection specifically to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo or Hawai‘i Community College.Comments closed