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05.22.2012 - 08:50AM

Category: Academia

Can a Values-Based Pledge of Commitment Make a Difference?


Twenty-five million students - or tomorrow's leaders and managers - are currently enrolled in nearly 4,000 colleges and universities across the country. Millions will graduate this spring and forge ahead to make worthy contributions with their employers or continue with their education. But while they all pledge to use their education to build their careers, its also the ideal time to ask them to make one more commitment: to live out values that will make a positive difference to the wide array of social and environmental challenges our nation faces today.

One such commitment was launched in 1995: the Student Pugwash Pledge, to encourage students to use science and technology in a socially responsible manner to create a safer and more just society.

A more recent values-based commitment is the MBA Oath, geared towards business students. Launched in 2009 by a group of Harvard Business School students preparing for graduation, the pledge asks business students to create value responsibly and ethically. The rationale for creating the Oath: What if each of us on our graduation committed to holding ourselves to a higher standard?

It is the same question that prompted a group of young people 25 years ago at Humboldt State University to create a pledge focused on bettering society by increasing social and environmental consciousness in the workplace after graduation. Since that humble beginning in 1987, the idea has turned into a national and global movement known as the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility. It encourages schools and their students to pledge the following:

"I, _________, pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work."

The Pledge operates at three levels:

  1. Students and graduates making choices about their employment,
  2. Schools educating about values and citizenship rather than only knowledge and skills,and
  3. The workplace and society being concerned about more than just the bottom line.

There are those who criticize such pledges as meaningless, feel-good gestures.

But for Meredith Morgoch, a public relations major and graduating senior at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who was so excited about the Graduation Pledge that she joined the effort as an Outreach Coordinator intern, this is anything but. "I became enthusiastic about the Pledge when I realized that it was necessary to become more conscious of my actions in an effort to improve society through a 'think globally, act locally' approach. I also believe the Pledge takes on a transformative leadership role when student leaders become role models of social and environmental responsibility that other can emulate."

Mary Munion, a senior at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, who will be receiving her Bachelor of Science in Business Communication, is another believer. She plans to fulfill her Pledge commitment by pursuing a career that makes protecting the environment a focal point. "My plan is to go to Law School for Environmental Policy. I want to work for a large corporation's environmental department so I can help big corporations realize that the actions they take play a huge role on the environment."

For Jared Duval, a 2005 Graduation Pledge alumnus from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., that commitment translated into becoming the National Director of the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), the nation's largest student-run environmental organization. His experiences there, in fact, even lead to a book, Next Generation Democracy: What the Open-Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change, published by Bloomsbury in 2010.

Other Pledge alums have started their own environmental organizations to address community issues, persuaded employers to refuse weapons contracts, encouraged more sustainable practices in the workplace and even refused job offers from companies with poor environmental and social responsibility track records.

What good work will result from this year's thousands of students who take the Graduation Pledge? Based on the above examples, great things could happen. Even if only a small minority of graduating students takes the Graduation Pledge and lives it out, the impact is enormous. More than 200,000 have taken the Graduation Pledge since 1987.

Information about the Graduation Pledge Alliance (GPA), the national organizing effort housed at the Bentley University Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility, may be found at the GPA's website: www.graduationpledge.org. Information about the Student Pugwash Pledge may be found at www.spusa.org/pledge/index.html. Information about the MBA Oath may be found at http://mbaoath.org.

--By G. Sherman H. Morrison, Executive Director, Graduation Pledge Alliance



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