UNITY — Terry Tempest Williams, author, activist and conservationist, told Unity College seniors about to graduate Saturday that they are part of conservation history — part of a college that is leading the country and world toward emancipatory education.

“Unity College is the first American college to divest from fossil fuels,” Williams said.

Williams, who received an honorary doctorate of sustainability science Saturday from college President Stephen Mulkey, said she is grateful for the college’s leadership in climate change and sustainability efforts, which has been watched closely around the nation and world.

“You can not know the full impact of your leadership,” she said.

Williams spoke at Unity’s 46th commencement ceremonies at Tozier Auditorium on the sprawling campus where students learn about the environment and natural resources through experiential and collaborative learning.

A Utah native, Williams, 60, works on issues that include wilderness preservation, women’s health, ecology and humans’ relationship to the earth.

She has written several books, including “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place” and “Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland.” She also is an essayist, poet and editor whose works have appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times. She was featured in Ken Burns’ 2009 public television series on national parks.

Williams spoke to students about the importance of collaboration and communion — about slowing down, working together, breathing and being in the present.

“It’s right here, right now, together,” she said.

She gave each of the 123 graduates a sprig of hand-picked sage from the desert and said the sprigs’ bases were wrapped in red thread to symbolize their passion. She carries sage with her wherever she goes as a source of strength and a reminder of where she belongs, she said.

“May you go forward with courage, commitment and calm,” Williams told the seniors. “We are with you. Congratulations.”

The packed auditorium erupted into cheers at the conclusion of her address, for which she also received a standing ovation.

Sitting in the front row of graduates was McKinley Bell, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who received a Bachelor of Science degree in captive wildlife care and education, and wildlife management.

Bell, 22, was wearing a gold honor cord around her neck, signifying she was graduating with a cumulative grade point average of 3.33 or higher. Bell, a member of the college’s Loon Society, was nominated for the society based on excellent academic performance, contributions to the college and community, and personal growth.

Before marching into the auditorium Saturday, Bell called her Unity College experience “amazing.”

“I couldn’t be happier,” she said, standing next to her sister, Raven, 17. “The professors are awesome, and the experiences we were able to have were just amazing and ones we couldn’t get anywhere else — really hands-on.”

Bell decided to study at Unity after seeing a brochure showing students there holding bear cubs and tagging the mother bears, she said. Last year, she did an internship in a wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary in Wisconsin.

Her father, Malcolm Bell, said she had great experiences while at Unity.

“She didn’t talk about it, but the administration here has been very good,” he said. “Kiki was in work study and worked with the athletic department running the intramural sports program. She also played soccer four years.”

Before the ceremonies started, Christopher Tucci, 22, of Monroe, Conn., was outside with his parents, Franca and Sam Tucci.

Christopher Tucci said he would be receiving a bachelor’s in parks resources, a degree he could use to be a park ranger interpreter, which is like a tour guide. Last summer he worked as an intern at Fort Stevenson State Park in Garrison, N.D, learning about being a ranger.

He enjoyed his time at Unity, where the courses were very focused, he said.

“I enjoyed the outdoor classes, very friendly staff, and we were on a first-name basis with about every single person,” he said.

As he spoke, the Unity College Choir was on a stage under a tent singing “What a Wonderful World.” The choir members, Samantha McGarrigle, Renee Adlesperger, Joshua Pittendreigh, Jimmy Pickett, Amanda Zarek and Nicole Bilodeau, later sang the national anthem in the auditorium prior to speeches.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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