UNITY — When Gregory LeClair was a boy, he would come home from school, turn on the television and watch as Emmy-winning biologist and conservationist Jeff Corwin traveled all over the world, searching for wild animals and explaining their roles in the ecosystems.

LeCair’s curiosity in the worlds Corwin was exploring turned into a true passion for animals and nature, which led him to pursue a degree in wildlife biology at Unity College.

On Saturday, LeClair graduated with that degree and got to watch Corwin, one of his inspirations, up close, delivering the commencement address and talking about the work LeClair hopes to do one day.

“There’s something that all of us share in common,” Corwin said, addressing the crowd of about 100 Unity graduates in the college’s gymnasium Saturday. “We’re drug addicts … and our drug of choice is nature. We love the natural world.”

Corwin, who received an honorary doctorate in sustainability science, told the new graduates about how he became a naturalist at the age of 6, when he discovered a garter snake under a wood pile in the backyard of his grandparent’s home. Corwin said two years later he became a conservationist when a neighbor of his grandparents killed the snake, which he had named Gladys, with a spade shovel.

“That moment taught me that sometimes good people do bad things because they lack information,” he said.

Corwin acknowledged that the journey they’ve chosen as conservasionists will not be easy, as their path will be riddled with hurdles.

“Here’s the bad news: We have incredible challenges with our planet,” he said, referencing climate change, extinction of species, pollution and the black-market wildlife industry. “That’s the bad news. But the good news is you. You are the solution.”

“There is opportunity for your new speciality as an environmentalist capable of taking on the challenges of a 21st-century planet in serious peril.”

He said these challenges would be exacerbated by the current presidential administration’s often antagonistic approach to science and environmentalism.

“Feeling this great honorary ribbon going around me, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s probably what it will feel like when the secretary of the interior puts a noose around my neck because he doesn’t like what I’m saying.’… Just kidding,” he said, referencing some of the moves Secretary Ryan Zinke has made since he took over at the Department of the Interior.

He added that though he is concerned about where the world is headed, he can take a deep breath, knowing that people who are “addicted to nature” like the graduates work at the dozens of agencies charged with protecting the nation’s environment.

But he had some suggestions for success to help the graduates get through those challenges.

The first was to “believe in yourself in the most obnoxious way.” He said he didn’t think he was any smarter or talented than the students graduating Saturday, but that he never gave up and persisted when he was told that he wasn’t going to make it in his industry.

The second was to be courageous when facing a sea of resistance.

“I believe we are at a time that a lot of people are going to be on the wrong side of history — the wrong side of natural history. You want to be on the right side, and courage will make that happen in very difficult, polarizing times.”

Last, Corwin told the graduates to have hope.

He told the story about the revival of the endangered black-footed ferret and that it was possible because someone had hope.

“I believe someone here has the hope to do incredible things like that in their future,” he said. “All of you are the next generation of environmental stewards. Have the hope to move forward, and as you do, remember: Explore the world, find your own adventure and make a difference. We’re counting on you.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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