Commencement Address by Michael R. Dimock to the Silicon Valley Health Corps at The Forge at the University of Santa Clara
Hello! I want to say to all assembled that I am thrilled to join you in honoring these 21 graduates of the Silicon Valley Health Corps. I have read each of their biographies, reviewed their videos and the metrics of their success and I want to say my outlook on the future is enhanced. I am convinced that with their leadership in the world, our food system and our communities will be healthier and more resilient. I hope that each graduate feels proud of their work and that, given the context in which we find ourselves on this day of August 22, 2014, they understand the significance of the contribution they have made.
In the time I have, I’d like to share my thoughts with you graduates on the present situation in food and farming, the future of the food system and your futures, which are important to every person on this planet whether they are aware of it or not.
The United States has had four great transformational moments in its history: the revolution which formed it; the Civil War that confirmed its existence, the Great Depression and World War II which tested its resolve and made it the dominant world power; and we have recently entered “the 4th turning,” which is a phrase taken from a book of that title, a book authored by Strauss and Howe, which I highly recommend. Each of these turning points have called forth a generation to be great. To be great means to be strong, enduring and, most importantly, to be wise. And to be wise is no small feat.
To be wise means to understand, to comprehend, as much as humans can, the nature of reality so that the leadership offered and choices made benefit the long-term prospects of all people and the planet. This moment in history is so very critical and decisive because we are clear now that the way we have lived on this planet is not sustainable. It is only in the last 50 years or so that the full impact of our ways and means have become evident. That evidence is climate change, economic inequality, and the degradation of human and ecosystem health. The scale of these challenges calls your generation to unleash a revolutionary transformation in how we as humans live on this planet.
It is right and fitting that the food system, along with the energy and water systems, be at the core of the transformational work. For these three systems form the underlying foundation of any civilization. If they are not managed justly and sustainably there can be no future, only chaos and suffering.
As the UN’s 2004 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report stated, the human production of food is the primary mechanism for degrading the world’s ecosystems. And as we know, it is also a primary reflection of institutional racism and oppression. The food system must be reframed and refashioned to enhance health, justice and build resilience. And that brings me to you all.
You 21 graduates of the 2014 Health Corps are in fact remaking the food system by reminding us of its fundamental purpose and by practicing and teaching the agroecologial principles that must be in place to deliver the health and resilience we need. Your community, home and school gardens; your demonstrations of healthy eating and active living; your sharing of knowledge of production, distribution and preparation of good food; your relationship building across generations, income levels, cultures and ethnicities are unleashing the antidote to the world’s ills; they are healing us as a people and planet. I mean this sincerely.
You cannot underestimate the long-term impact of your actions in the Corps and in your lives going forward if you continue to embody and share the principles and practices you have employed over the last year. And I know from your biographies that without exception, you all came to this year with the thinking and experience from school, life, travels and work that allowed or prepared you for what you have done in the Corps.
I look to you and your generation to help us pass through this great turning before us. And I believe that you will do it as has been done by past generations who have faced hugely daunting challenges, moments that seemed overwhelming and catastrophic.
Your work with kids and families that have been excluded from opportunities and necessities related to food and nutrition is reshaping how communities think about the production and sharing of the bounty of the earth. I believe you are actually forging a new system. If you have ever watched a blacksmith or a metal worker you know that forging does not happen quickly.
Change requires the heat of friction and sacrifice as you build new enterprises, careers and institutions that heretofore did not exist. So the fruits of your labor will ripen slowly, but they will be enduring, healthy and resilient. If you stay with this work, your life journey will reflect or reveal what a human life in the 21st Century can mean and must do: we must all give back as much or more than we take, in order to regenerate the planet’s life force, its fertility and evolutionary dynamic. Your work in the Corps demonstrates what that means.
And I hope that in your work ahead, in whatever form it takes, expresses what you have learned about relationships to other people and the biological and physical processes upon which life depends.
It is appropriate on this special occasion that honors your greatness to consider a great word: intimacy. We think of intimacy as meaning closeness. But what does it mean to be close?… Well, it means to be mutually vulnerable. It means to be so knowledgeable about another that you could do great damage. But when there is healthy intimacy you will not choose to do harm because you feel love and are aware and responsible with that power.
I believe that intimacy extends beyond just human-to-human relations. I believe it is through the food system that we collectively experience the most intimacy with Mother Nature. We can either destroy our communities and the earth or regenerate them through the food system. And the times we live in require that we regenerate and that is what you have been doing in the Silicon Valley Health Corps. That is why I believe you are among the world’s most important humans. We need healthy intimacy with the earth. If we can develop that with nature here in the Valley of the Hearts Delight, as Santa Clara Valley was once known, and here in California, the nation’s most important food producing state, the effect will be like that of dropping a stone in a pond. The ripples of a transformed food system will move across the culture and the planet and the health and resilience of all communities and places will be enhanced. So thank you for what you have done here, it will be remembered by all those you touched, and it will help to reshape the world. Congratulations on a job well done and may the world see your talents and wisdom and may it embrace you and give you pathways to lead and shape our shared future.