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XR graduate’s climate activism at Cambridge presentation is a first



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The first graduation climate action took place in Cambridge this week when Sarah Clark was joined by Extinction Rebellion activists to bring the emergency message to attendees of the event.

Sarah wore an Extinction Rebellion mortarboard to the presentation at the Corn Exchange, where she received her MSc in sustainability from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

“I feel I owe it to all these graduates to know that the lives they had planned for themselves and all their hard work is at risk due to the ecological emergency we face,” said Sarah, who was recently arrested - along with 1,404 others - in the London action for peacefully blocking a road with others from Extinction Rebellion to highlight the need to stop the status quo and treat like the incoming climate emergency for what it is.

"Initially I believe I approached this action with a 'needs must' mentality and I don't think I fully allowed many feelings to settle in: I truly believe that anyone who has read the science and listened to the experts owes it to humanity to use every opportunity to help inform others of the emergency we are in.

"As the auditorium started to fill with family and fresh graduates I began to feel very vulnerable, my family were seated quite a way back away from me, and it wasn't until my fellow MSc Sustainability graduates began to join me in our row of seats that I felt comfortable. I had informed them beforehand that I would be making a statement about the crisis with my graduation garments and they were all supportive.

"During the speeches a camera operative panned across the audience and my Extinction Rebellion mortar board stood out very prominently on the screen against the standard navy caps, and as I was ushered to to stage to accept my award I felt a deep gratitude to my University for allowing me to make such as statement. I was a little shaky as I waited for my name to be called, so I took some deep breaths and thought about the thousands of people across the globe who are facing the effects of devastating ecosystem breakdown. I looked in the area towards where my family were sitting and mouthed a thank you their way. I was concerned as I crossed the stage that I might be subjected to negative jeering and boos, but the opposite occurred and I struggled to hold back tears. I think I felt joy at being able to step out in a small way and raise awareness of this issue.

Message: Sarah Clark's protest at the Corn Exchange was a first in Cambridge academic life. Picture: Keith Heppell
Message: Sarah Clark's protest at the Corn Exchange was a first in Cambridge academic life. Picture: Keith Heppell

"I can honestly say that in comparison to being arrested for the first time last week in Horse Guards Road, this was far more nerve wrecking. It is very daunting standing alone and asking others to take notice of an issue so dark and heart breaking, which is why I thought carefully about the wording on my placard: 'Stand with me. Acknowledge our privilege and use our education to right the wrongs in this world and act on hard truths with courage and compassion'."

The XR graduation garments were made using second hand items bought from Camden Market. Sustainability fashion artist Firak said: “Through my art and creations I have tried to raise awareness of these issues for decades. I felt drawn to Sarah’s action being able to offer my skills in garment making and I love that the simplicity of my contribution can highlight the emergency we are in. We must demand more from our governments.”

An ARU spokesperson said: “We’re proud that Sustainability graduate Sarah is taking such a principled stand over the issue of climate change, which is the biggest challenge facing society today. Last year Sarah was instrumental in ensuring ARU became only the 10th UK university to sign the Fossil Fuel Declaration, pledging not to invest in extractor fossil fuel companies now or in the future.

ARU signs up for fossil free future with, from left, Professor Aled Jones, director of Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute, MSc Sustainability student Sarah Clark and Professor Iain Martin, Vice Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University. ARU recently a £50m agreement to source electricity directly from onshore wind farms as it steps up its efforts to become fully carbon neutral by 2030.
ARU signs up for fossil free future with, from left, Professor Aled Jones, director of Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute, MSc Sustainability student Sarah Clark and Professor Iain Martin, Vice Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University. ARU recently a £50m agreement to source electricity directly from onshore wind farms as it steps up its efforts to become fully carbon neutral by 2030.

“Like Sarah, we believe that urgent action is needed and that’s why ARU has joined other universities and organisations in declaring a climate emergency. ARU aims to become carbon neutral by 2030 and, to help meet that objective, we have recently signed an agreement to source renewable energy directly from UK wind farms.”

Sarah's supporters include environmental activist and presenter Chris Packham, who said: "It’s tempting to see a graduation being an end to a period of education but as Sarah’s statement makes so poignantly clear - rapidly educating a broader section of humanity will now be critical to its very survival, and that of every other organism on earth."

Co-founder of the Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit, who was awarded an honourary doctorate at the ARU in 2015, said: “Eden is proud to be associated with committed brave people who are waking us all up. There is no 'they' to protect us, there is only 'us' to save the world we love.”

Sarah Clark finds her seat for the ARU Degree ceremony at the Corn Exchange. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sarah Clark finds her seat for the ARU Degree ceremony at the Corn Exchange. Picture: Keith Heppell


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