Paul Hawken’s Unforgettable Commencement Address

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, founder ofWiser Earthand author of many excellent books including The Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitaland most recently, Blessed Unrest a book about how disparate social movements throughout the world are redefining how we relate to our environment and to each other and are ‘healing the wounds of the world with passion and determination’.

On May 3 2009, Paul Hawken was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by the University of Portland, when he also delivered a brilliant commencement address to the class of 2009 which highlights many of his ideas and is summed up neatly in his  statement,

“Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.”


So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Read the full address here: Paul Hawken’s Commencement Address in Portland