We all know what to expect at graduation ceremonies: Students walk across the stage to receive diplomas and toss their caps into the air. Everyone sits through speeches (which hopefully aren’t too long) from valedictorians, salutatorians and other honorary figures.
While many dread listening to these speeches, they’re usually the most valuable moments in the ceremony. In 2014, National Public Radio examined over 350 graduation speeches dating back to 1774. It found that the most common tidbits of advice in these speeches include:
- Be kind.
- Make art.
- Remember history.
- Embrace failure.
- Work hard.
- Don’t give up.
- Listen to your inner voice.
- Change the world.
This year, a youth-run organization known as the Class of 0000 has recruited hundreds of commencement speakers to add another bullet point to that list – fight climate change by demanding politicians work toward a zero emissions future within 11 years.
Every speaker who has signed up through the group’s website has vowed to recite these words, which were co-authored by youth organizers across the country:
Today, we celebrate our achievements from the last 4 years. But I want to focus on what we need to achieve in the next 11.
That’s how long climate scientists have given us; 11 years to avoid catastrophic climate change. It’s already damaging our homes, our health, our safety and our happiness. We won’t let it take our futures too.
Our diplomas may say Class of 2019, but marked in history, we are the Class of Zero.
Zero time to waste.
Across the country, our class stands 7.5 million strong.
And in unity, we’re giving 2020 political candidates a choice:
Have a plan to get to zero emissions, or get zero of our votes.
Together, we have the power to solve the climate crisis.
Every student. Every parent. Every teacher. Every leader.
The future is in our hands.
The idea for this movement started last year, when a group of climate-change organizations initiated a campaign called “Donate 60.” They asked commencement speakers to implore the audience to vote for candidates based on their abilities to address such issues as:
- equality across race, gender, and sexual orientation
- safety from gun violence
- action on climate change
This year, the group decided to focus exclusively on climate change. “Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for action,” says Lia Harel, one of the youth leaders behind the Class of 0000 and a high school senior at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “We want this to be a unifying moment across the nation to show our 2020 candidates the power of this young voting block. Candidates need to have a plan to get to zero emissions or they will get zero of our votes.”
According to Pew Research, 10% of eligible voters will be members of Generation Z, Americans who will be between the ages 18 and 23, during the 2020 elections.
Speech-givers aren’t the only ones who can participate in the movement. Anyone – whether you are a student, know one, or just want to fight climate change – can show support by:
- Taking a selfie with your hand over your heart, in the shape of a zero, and posting it to social media with the hashtag #classof0000.
- Posting your high school yearbook photo, or a photo of yourself in college, to the social media pages run by your state and local politicians along with a comment asking what they would have done if they had graduated from high school or college during a climate crisis.
- Registering to vote and casting ballots for candidates who have clear ideas about how to achieve a zero-emissions world.
Anjali Mitra, a junior at Brookline High School in Massachusetts and a Class of 0000 organizer, thinks this initiative is the perfect way to get young adults involved in climate activism. “Often young people are dissuaded from joining activist groups because they feel that they are not qualified enough or it requires too much commitment,” she says. “This is easy. Youth are powerful, but they are often under-represented in big conversations. It’s important that we speak out about the climate crisis. We have the most to lose.”