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Convocation: Vandana Shiva inspires new alumni

Environmental leader receives honorary degree

Globally renowned scholar and activist Vandana Shiva addresses graduating students in Convocation Hall (photo by Jon Horvatin)

“You’re entering a new world, and all I can do today is share with you my journey and how in that journey, nothing was irrelevant.”

With those words Vandana Shiva addressed a Convocation Hall filled with hopeful graduates Nov. 12, moments after receiving her honorary doctor of laws from Chancellor Michael Wilson.

The Delhi-based scholar and activist urged graduates to carefully examine the natural and social environment they will meet throughout their lives and to depart from common misconceptions of a disconnected world. 

“I absolutely love this room because it is a teacher of how the world really is: the world is circular, it’s not linear,” said Shiva, gazing around the ceremonial hall. “Linearity cripples us, reduces us, shrinks us, and creates new vulnerabilities because if all you’ve seen is a linear path; not having that path to walk creates panic.

“But cycles tell us life renews; diversity tells us that, in diversity and multiplicity, lies resilience.”

To further illustrate her ideal of interconnectivity, Shiva referred to her original PhD in foundations of quantum theory. Acknowledging her education as a physicist might at first seem to have little relation to her current work with food and agriculture systems, Shiva drew connections between quantum theories in physics and the interconnectivity of life in ecology. (Watch the full address here.) 

"We inherited a legacy, at least my generation did 40 years ago; a legacy of thinking we are separate from nature," Shiva said. "When every morsel of food we eat becomes our body, when whether it’s the pollution we breathe or the oxygen trees give us – interdependence is the very condition of our existence on this planet."

Shiva’s works span multiple fields including intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, genetic engineering and women’s rights. Those contributions led her to be named one of the seven most powerful women in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2010 and dubbed an environmental hero by Time Magazine.

In 1991, Shiva founded Navdanya, a national movement in India to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources and to promote organic farming and fair trade. She is also responsible for Diverse Women for Diversity, an international movement of women working in food production and agriculture, patents and biotechnology.

For her work in environmentalism and gender equality, Shiva is a recipient of various accolades and honours which include the Right Livelihood Award, the Sydney Peace Prize, the Calgary Peace Prize, the Thomas Merton Award, and in 2012 the Prism of Reason Award. But she urged her audience to consider the unsung contributions of women around the world who represent "a continuity of centuries of knowing" - including the illiterate yet insightful women she encounters in villages while conducting research. 

"They are a continuity who quietly teach us the culture of caring and sharing; values you’ll need very much as you leave to enter the larger world."

Applause filled the ceremonial hall as Shiva concluded her address with one last powerful statement.

“As you go out into the world; I only can share that in cultivating the earth and cultivating the soil, we don’t just cultivate plants, we cultivate community, and in cultivating any initiative that nurtures and protects others we cultivate the future.

“Humanity must realize a unity wider in range, deeper in sentiment, stronger in path than ever before. May that strength be with you in your life – thank you.”