Former Vice President Al Gore called for Americans to “occupy democracy” at the inauguration of Jonathan Lash — the sixth president of Hampshire College — on Friday.
“We need an American Spring, this spring,” said Gore, who directed most of his remarks at students, who he saw as a one of the driving forces of political changes.
He criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and other entities the same First Amendment rights as individuals.
“Corporations are not people,” he said to cheers from the audience. “Money is not speech.”
Gore encouraged students to take a stand, reminding them that he feels youth can be the force that brings about changes the elders in a society might have trouble imagining, recounting the disbelief of older citizens when former President John F. Kennedy announced his goal to have someone walk on the moon.
“I remember again hearing elders of that time say that was a mistake, we have never done anything like that, that was a foolish commitment,” he said.
But, eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did walk on the moon. And, the average age of the system engineers working in mission control was 26, making them 18 when they heard the challenge, said Gore.
Gore, an outspoken environmental activist, also took the opportunity to emphasize his belief that the country needs to respond to the threat of climate change.
“Every single professional scientific society in every field related to earth science or climate science says it is an urgent problem that requires urgent attention and must be addressed. … Now, there are some talk radio show hosts that say it is not,” he said to a long pause filled by soft chuckles from audience members. “It is up to you.”
After Gore’s address, which received a standing ovation, Lash — also a climate activist who had worked with Gore during their time in Washington, D.C. — took the stage to deliver his inaugural address.
Lash spoke about how the world is changing faster than ever before, creating an “era of instability” and how he views it as his job to prepare students “to thrive” in this new era.
“The world in flux is what Hampshire’s inquiry-based, learner-driven, discipline-integrating education is designed for,” he said. “We honor the vision and values upon which Hampshire was built by embracing our obligation to the future, not fearful of the risks, but excited by opportunities.”
A self-described “card carrying greenie,” he outlined his plans to make Hampshire a more sustainable place, including a plan to make the campus carbon neutral in 10 years.
“I think what we are doing to our earth is stupid, wrong, short-sighted and completely unnecessary,” he said.
During the ceremony, people representing different Hampshire constituencies spoke, welcoming Lash into the community and expressing why they thought he was the right fit for the campus.
“He really gets us, he gets Hampshire,” said Maria Vallejo, an alumnus of Hampshire, who gave a speech on behalf of the small liberal arts school’s alumni.
Many speakers talked about how Lash seemed to be willing to listen to all of the representative voices on the campus, from faculty to alumni to students.
Lash has a “temperament of passion fused with respectful listening,” said Chair of the Hampshire College Board of Trustees Sigmund Roos.
Lash — who was named as Hampshire’s president May 11, 2011 — has taken a less traditional route than many other university presidents. After working in the Peace Corps with his wife, Eleanor Scattergood, Lash earned his M. Ed. and J. D. from the Catholic University of America.
In 1993, he became president of the World Resources Institute, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C. that focused on environmental issues. And in 1999, he co-chaired the President’s Council of Sustainable Development that developed a plan of sustainable development for President Clinton.
Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]