An update from Keya, a sophomore mechanical engineering major:

Our group in Pittsburgh

If you think a sustainability conference is all about sitting in a room listening to some hippie rant about tree hugging, you haven’t been to AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). The true reason for the AASHE conference is to congregate different people from all around the world so that they can share their ideas about how to better their communities and schools toward sustainability.

What is sustainability you ask? It’s a way to produce and consume on a level that can be continuously reproduced without depleting a resource toward extinction. It’s a circle of life; not a beeline of death.

1st Day:

Right as I and the other SMU students step off the plane in Pittsburgh, we spot our first recycle bin. Good sign.

2nd Day:

Student Summit!

The early student gets the trash … literally. Cramming 50 students on a yellow school bus that most of us haven’t ridden since high school and taking us to the river of Pittsburgh, where we clean up the trash left behind – it seems too good to be true. We do it for the random citizens who enjoy the stroll by the serene water and the occasional hobo who has left his camp long ago in the maze of foliage and shrubbery.

Too bad when you are an adventurous eco-friendly hippie, the sight of other people’s neglectful waste frustrates you but also encourages you to clean up and beautify the land even more. As a matter of fact, we made a game out of it: competing with the other clean-up crew to see who can pick up the most trash from the most dangerous places to reach.

A couple of hours of this and everyone surely looks muddy and smells like the sweat and trash they have accumulated. Going back to the conference in the huge convention center by the water and listening to a riveting keynote speaker, Bill McKibben, who emphasizes that if we don’t act fast it may be too late, just makes all the students’ passions for change want to explode! What better way to better the world than to reach out to the young people of the future.

3rd Day:

My long day of conference meetings was spent timekeeping each session to the second, listening intently to the swarm of ideas, and getting one-on-one with presenters from all backgrounds and academic statuses. At the beginning of this day I wasn’t looking forward to the long hours and endless discussions; by the end, I was trying to figure out how I could present at next year’s conference because I am so excited about the many sustainable successes I will achieve and bring about at SMU.

But it’s Majora Carter, the keynote speaker from the Bronx of New York, who fills my heart and mind with awe as she “Greens the Ghetto” by “economically empowering the disempowered” people.

4th Day:

When you think of a protest, all that comes to your mind is picket signs and angry rioters shouting at the press and “the man” they’ve got to stick it to. Well, there were signs; but when it comes to how we do things, we prefer green peace. The chanting and energy flowing from hundreds of students who rallied for miles to get President Obama’s attention for just a second engulfed the ears and eyes of many.

Our mission is to end the proposed expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline going from the tar sands of Canada all the way down to Texas because it would pollute and destroy anything in its path. It was a breathtaking experience only someone who has taken part of could understand. Hopefully, the wave of Obama’s hand to us through his darkened limo could surely allow the freedom of democracy to sway his decision toward what is right.

After all I have experienced, I wouldn’t give up going to AASHE for anything.