This Year, Graduating Seniors Will School the Country on Climate Change

In June of 1968, Dartmouth valedictorian James Newton devoted his commencement speech to the foremost issue of his time: the Vietnam war. Calling the conflict a “vast international atrocity,” Newton urged his fellow classmates to resist the war and avoid the draft, earning “energetic booing and walk-outs by parents” and criticism from the follow-up speaker, as the university’s alumni magazine wrote in a 1971 retrospective . But per the magazine, Newton’s speech was also met with “cheers and standing ovations” from his classmates — dozens of whom no doubt had friends and loved ones sent overseas to fight. Newton’s call to action and the polarizing response from his audience “crashed ashore on newspapers across the country,” the alumni magazine reported. “In opposing the war, Newton spoke for the majority,” the New Yorker wrote in its coverage of the speech. Now, an entire generation of young people is facing its own Vietnam, one with a distinct timeline: we have a little more than a decade to radically shift our society and economy to stave off the worst of climate change. Today, many high school and college seniors are using graduation not to celebrate entering adulthood, but to excoriate the government […]

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