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YI Co-Founder Ari Matusiak and TakePart’s Commencement Speaker Dream Team

TakePart’s Commencement Speaker Dream Team

Graduation day is just around the corner. Those of us who have waited under the blazing sun, eager to toss our tasseled caps, know that the big day’s commencement speech can make for a memorable graduation. Seniors from Kalamazoo Central High will have the good fortune of hearing President Obama speak at their graduation—a dream come true for many young scholars.

Here at TakePart, we tried to narrow down a list of the candidates we most wished had approached the podium to send us out into adulthood. Below is our commencement Dream Team. Five speakers, each of whom represents a different area of expertise, and all of whom would inspire graduates hoping to make a difference in the world.

Ari Matusiak spreads the young, invincible message. Photo: Courtesy Ari Matusiak

#5: Ari Matusiak 

Last summer, Georgetown law student Ari Matusiak helped launch Young Invincibles, an organization aimed at rallying young people to make health care coverage affordable and accessible for everyone. As the group’s name suggests, young adults often share a common sentiment that nothing can harm them; in reality, they are still susceptible to health issues and deserve comprehensive health coverage.

Ari himself has been inspired by the thousands of young Americans who have shared their personal health stories: “Some of them are battling serious illnesses. Others were scraping by just to make ends meet. But all of them gave of themselves because they believed that by sharing their stories they could make a difference. I will never forget that.”

Ari shares some encouraging words about the changing landscape of health care:

There is a lot of good news for high school seniors, whether or not they are heading to college in the fall. The first major piece of health care reform to get enacted is all about them. Starting formally on September 23, young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. That means that if you’re on your parents’ plan right now, you can stay on that plan. If you’re going on your college’s plan but are worried about finding work right away after you graduate, you can go back on your parents’ plan when the time comes. Taking a job that doesn’t offer health insurance? If your parents have insurance, then you’re covered. It is a powerful provision, one the White House estimates will impact nearly 5 million young Americans right away. That’s big news.

These reforms are welcome improvements for graduates crossing the stage this spring (and for their families cheering in the crowd), but more work still needs to be done to ensure thateveryone is covered. Listen to Ari’s words of wisdom:

To me, what is most important is that young people—and all people—find what it is they are passionate about. I do not subscribe to the belief that there is one set of majors or job experiences that will make you into a better advocate. I do subscribe to the belief that we all carry a deep and constant civic responsibility: to see the world as it is and to reflect on how it should be. It is the distance between the two that we are responsible for and it is our awareness of that distance that will compel us to find solutions.

Visit Young Invincibles to find out how you can get involved.

Photo: Courtesy Anna Lappé

#4:  Anna Lappé 

Teenagers across the U.S. are increasingly making the effort to find smarter, healthier ways to fuel their bodies. Whether they’re committing afast food fast in Oregon or demandingmore greens and grains in Chicago, students are taking action to bring more healthful and sustainable options into their schools.

As students head out into the expansive sea of food options, they should be armed with solid advice on making wise eating choices for themselves and the planet. Anna Lappé, renowned author and founding principal of The Small Planet Institute, is a terrific role model for graduates who are looking to get involved in the food movement. Anna is committed to finding sustainable, climate-friendly solutions to our industrial food system, particularly in her latest book Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It.

For graduates looking to take part in changing the way we grow, transport and eat our food, Anna reminds them that there are plenty of ways to get started:

All across the country, from Nashville, Tennessee, to neighborhoods across Brooklyn, people are stepping up to foster a food system that’s better for our bodies and our communities. You can be a part of the movement by joining the ranks of ‘food fighters’ who are changing the way America eats and farms. You can also be part of the movement through the choices you make every day about what food you eat.

Want to roll up your sleeves and get your hands in the dirt? Opportunities abound to learn about your food, from the grounds-eye view. Check out, a for the farm-curious set, or learn about university-based programs like the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Agroecology Program.

Curious about how Pop Tarts connect to global warming? Why we’re living on a ‘stuffed and starved’ planet, where 1.2 billion people are underfed while 1.2 billion are overfed? Development studies and political science classes will help you explore the dynamics of hunger; through public policy and urban planning you can tap into how to build more sustainable and just food systems; in nutrition and public health classes you can explore how to promote healthier food. You can even connect your interest in philosophy to the ethics of eating; your talent in art or music to the culture of food. The possibilities are limitless.

Find out how you can Take a Bite out of Climate Change along with Anna.

Jordan’s Queen Noor attends a Security Council Summit meeting during the United Nations General Assembly Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

#3: Queen Noor

Nuclear weapons may seem like an inappropriate topic for the hopeful mood of graduation day, but nothing could be more commendable than imagining a peaceful future. If you’re looking for someone to inspire hope that one day we will eradicate nuclear weapons, thenQueen Noor of Jordan should be at the top of your list. A tenacious advocate for peace and human rights, Queen Noor is a founding leader of Global Zero, an international effort to eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide. The Global Zero campaign is looking to students to start and lead local chapters of Global Zero on their campuses.

After attending the U.N. Security Council Special Session on Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament, Queen Noor praised the efforts of those students already involved with the Global Zero campaign:

We need you to be engaged, we need your chapters to help develop the momentum that really will help President Obama and the other world leaders who are working to end the scourge of nuclear weapons. We need you and we thank you for starting those chapters, which play such an important role.

As talk of nuclear disarmament dominates news headlines, Queen Noor and Global Zero promise that graduates can play a critical role in making the future a safer place to live.


Van Jones arrives at the 41st Annual NAACP Image Awards Photo: Danny Moloshok/Reuters

#2: Van Jones

While 290,000 jobs were added to payrolls in April, the job market still looks grim for graduates. Now would be a great time to hear some uplifting words about a burgeoning green job market. While Van Jones did step downas President Obama’s environmental advisor last year, he’s about to begin his position as visiting fellow atPrinceton University, making him an ideal candidate to speak to high school grads. As a passionate advocate for building a green collar economy, Jones is anxious to get back to building solutions that benefit the economy and the environment. The Daily Princetonian shares Jones’s thoughts on our current state of affairs:

America is at a crossroads, facing economic and ecological crises. The next generation of job-creating, green solutions will be even more challenging to conceive. And they will be even more difficult to implement.

Get involved with the green collar revolution with the 1Voice campaign.

Bill McKibben at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Photo: kk+’s Flickr photostream/Creative commons

#1: Bill McKibben

Climate change is posing catastrophic threats around the world, and one group seems to be grasping the urgent need to find solutions: young people. Faced with the prospect of inheriting a rapidly warming planet, youth are jumping at the opportunity to find ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions and steer us away from the climate tipping point.

Environmental activist, author, and educator Bill McKibben has organized young people around the world to demand action on climate change by world leaders, most recently for campaign, which involved over 5,000 events in 181 countries and isconsidered the largest ever coordinated global rally of any kind. With his sights set on the climate change campaign set to take place October 10, Bill offers these words of advice, which will surely resonate with soon-to-be graduates:

When, years down the road, the next generation asks what we did to save the planet, we want to be able to say: ‘We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.’ There’s no guarantee we can beat the rich and powerful interests that we’re up against—but thanks to you we’ve got enough momentum to have a real chance. Let’s use it now.

Learn more about how you can get involved with the 10/10 Global Work Party.

Have an ideal commencement speaker of your own? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.