I am very honored to be here with all of you today, accepting this honorary degree from my alma mater. I would like to thank President Christian, and the SUNY Board of Trustees for their kindness in considering and approving me for this special recognition.
Standing here in front of you at commencement, my life has come full circle! I wish that I too was at the beginning of my career instead of near its end, because there are so many challenges ahead of us, and so much that needs to be done.
Over my nearly 50-year career the one thing that I have found constant in both the natural and cultural world is that change is the rule! Our work at the Daniel Smiley Research Center at the Mohonk Preserve, located on the mountain ridge you see to the west of the campus, includes research into the monumental landscape changes in the Shawangunk Mountains over the last 300 years or so. We have found that nearly all of the landscape changes are related to human caused disturbances as settlers and their descendants followed economic opportunities to make a living. Most involved wood product harvesting like charcoal burning, barrel hoop pole cutting, bark harvesting for leather tanning, and clearing for farming. Identifying and documenting these forest impacts allow us to understand how we got here and how we need to manage our resources now to affect where we are going. Nature's resilience is evident as the Shawangunk landscape we visit today has become largely wild again. Farm fields used over a century ago by Hiram VanLeuven for pasture and to grow produce for his family in the former Trapps Mountain Hamlet are now growing mature forest. The New York State Endangered Peregrine Falcon is again nesting in two locations this year on the Shawangunk cliffs we can see from here, due in large part to the ground breaking research by our own Dr. Heinz Meng here at New Paltz. Wild again in the spirit and values of the Wilderness Act, signed into law 50 years ago this September, and which we will be commemorating with events here at New Paltz and throughout the state and nation. Nature demands resilience and adaptability. So do our lives.
The Mohonk Preserve, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has made available recreational and educational opportunities for both New Paltz students and faculty over the decades. These included cross country training, biking, climbing, hiking, student internships, class visits, and sponsorship of Research Associate projects, in subjects like English, biology, ecology, geology, geography, chemistry, limnology, ichthyology, art, history, weather and climate, and hydrology! Many of the faculty who I had classes with here as a student and who strongly influenced my future, I had the pleasure of working with and assisting on their Research Associate projects over my 40 years at the Preserve. What started out as individual faculty--student relationships have turned out to be lifelong friendships. A fellow graduate here today just completed a geography internship at the Daniel Smiley Research Center, mapping decades of Black Bear records from our 100 square mile study area. My compliments, Emily, on a job well done!
Early on I thought a good deal about our place in the world, in nature. I found that the great 20th century conservationist Aldo Leopold summed it up nicely. Looking at the big picture, he felt we are all members and citizens of a land-based community, requiring respect for fellow members and for the community. He said...." A land ethic....reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land". Respect for the land, and for each other. This has guided my personal and professional life. Respect and responsibility, good principles to live by!
My Good Luck and Best Wishes To All Of You