This has been a challenging year for our department and across all of higher education, but the “safer at home” directive that forced us to complete the Spring 2020 semester via remote teaching / learning is allowing many of us to reflect deeply on issues that concern most of us in Botany & Conservation Biology: air pollution, food supply chains, noise reduction, fossil fuel production, emerging diseases, human population growth, and global sustainability.
Under normal circumstances I would have delivered a commencement address in full regalia to our graduating seniors, their families, and friends this week. Instead I prepared a video message from my home along the Sugar River in which I quoted one of Wisconsin’s most famous alumni – John Muir – who developed his passion for natural history and wilderness preservation after taking courses in botany & geology at the UW-Madison in the early 1860s. In this reflective essay Muir reminds us that even though we may not physically be within the classroom we can continue to be inspired and educated within Nature’s great outdoor laboratory . . .
“From the top of a hill on the north side of Lake Mendota I gained a last wistful, lingering view of the beautiful university grounds and buildings where I had spent so many hungry and happy and hopeful days. There with streaming eyes I bade my blessed Alma Mater farewell. But I was only leaving one university for another, the Wisconsin University for the University of the Wilderness.”
The year ahead will be one of sacrifice and hardship for many, but will be marked also by creativity, teamwork, and continued reflection. Eventually we will return to our beloved campus along the shores of Lake Mendota, but until that time comes I intend to listen a little bit more intently to the frogs, insects, and birds and to look a little more closely at mosses, ferns, and germinating seedlings this summer. I hope that you, too, will continue to be stewards and lifelong learners of the natural world.
Professor Ken Cameron,
Chair of Botany & Conservation Biology