Commencement Remarks 2009

by Paul Gesterling, UIS Class of 2009

University of Illinois at Springfield,
May 16, 2009

“A Return to the Human Scale…”

I recently heard a story on NPR about Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert, two men in the Peace Corp that decided instead of going to Ecuador on their next assignment, they would go back to their hometown. The two grew up in Wilmington, OH, a rural town of about 12,000 that recently suffered the closing of its DHL hub. About 3000 people lost their jobs. Mark and Taylor returned to find out how the small community would handle the situation and see if they could help in any way.

You’ll hear a lot of commencement addresses about going out to change the world.

My appeal is that you go home. Not to be a burden on your parents. But go and be a part of the community wherever you’re headed. Your town, your neighborhood, your church, go make a difference there. It is much more manageable and much more human to make a difference on this scale. In my field we call it civic engagement. Whatever your field calls it, get involved. Take an active role in your community with all of your best ideas, beliefs, skills, values, motives. Not to save the world. But to be human. To live life on the human scale. To be fulfilled and live as a social being for the betterment of your community, your family and yourself.

Now, in the time that we’ve been students here we’ve heard a lot about companies that are too big to fail and bailouts that are too big to comprehend.

But there is also a perpendicular movement afoot — it has to do with micro-loans, in-home sustainable energy efforts, local produce and farmer’s markets. These are human scale technologies.

That’s the work the Mark and Taylor have begun in Wilmington, OH. They’re working to ensure that their community can help itself. And in ways that are sustainable. They started a blog and a Web site dedicated to the county’s development. They’ve networked with businesses and public officials. They’re working to create community gardens. They’re seeking funding to weatherize homes. And they’re proposing tax incentives for local green businesses. People are listening and things are getting done.

I’m not retelling their story to glorify Mark and Taylor. I’m telling their story to show how doing small things — things on a human scale — with great ingenuity, passion and love, can have a profound impact on the lives of individuals and communities.

You don’t need to go to Ecuador. If you’re going there then Godspeed. But, there are enough graduating classes headed out to save the world. We can be one of the few to head out and have a deep and lasting impact in Mechanicsberg, IL or St. Patrick’s parish or Enos Park neighborhood. It may not be glamorous, but it’s real and it’s important. It’s human.

E.F. Schumacher wrote, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

The world has enough change coming to it from the hands of intelligent fools. I’m hoping that leaving here, the UIS graduating class of 2009, will work with a touch of genius and a lot of courage to make a difference on a human scale.

Thank you very much and congratulations to the class of 2009.