By Jo Kadlecek, Senior Writer
December 4, 2009
Wenham, Massachusetts—Since she first came to Gordon College, Kate Kirby, a senior from Orono, Maine, has taken on campus life with a fervor. As a Spanish major with minors in biblical and theological studies, Latin American studies and environmental studies, Kirby has somehow also found time to serve as president of a student club called Advocates for a Sustainable Future (ASF). She’s proud of the fact that Gordon College was one of the first Christian colleges to recycle, and she works hard to help others see how caring for the earth coincides with the Christian faith.
For all her campus commitments, though, Kirby never expected to receive an invitation to the White House. But Wednesday, December 2, she was one of only 100 student leaders from across the nation invited to participate in a special White House-sponsored Clean Energy Economy Forum for emerging leaders, whom the White House called “the entrepreneurs, innovators and builders of tomorrow.”
“This was a great opportunity for me to talk with other student leaders about my Christian perspective on the environment,” said Kirby. “But it was also a chance for us to make sure the president’s administration heard the concerns we all have for environmental issues.”
Kirby joined college students from mostly public universities and those associated with groups like the Sierra Club, Environmental Entrepreneurs, campus clubs like ASF and even leaders from the NAACP. Together they heard from key cabinet members as well as representatives from the Offices of the Secretary of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. After listening to several speeches, the student advocates participated in a question/answer period and were divided into break-out sessions where they engaged with administration representatives on related issues.
“We talked about future and specific issues, from climate and environmental literacy education to how young entrepreneurs can harness green careers,” Kirby said. “I’d been a bit disenchanted before with politics in general, but this helped renew my perspective and made me want to sit down more with leaders to see how we could work together. I even got to talk with Kal Penn (former actor turned administrative representative) about what we’re doing at Gordon, and he took notes.”
Kirby’s involvement in Washington started last month when she joined members of Restoring Eden, a faith-based environmental group who organized college students to lobby senators from their states. Through their help Kirby visited offices for Senators Kerry and Kirk (from Massachusetts), and Snowe and Collins (from Maine). So when the president’s staff contacted the Energy Action Coalition about inviting college students to the Forum, Restoring Eden turned to Kirby. She was one of only two students from Christian colleges to attend the Forum.
The whirlwind trip for Kirby—invited on Monday, flew to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, attended the Forum on Wednesday and flew back to Boston on Thursday—came only a week before final exams. But Kirby was energized by the gathering.
“I came back wanting to encourage my peers to take their stewardship role more seriously than ever,” Kirby said. “I know our academic workload is tough, but we have an incredible opportunity to have our voices heard. We as Christian students are an unlikely alliance on environmental issues. Many don’t expect us to be advocates for sustainability, but it’s because of my faith that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity. And I hope this is only the beginning.”