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Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility

The Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility states: “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.”

Students define for themselves what it means to be socially and environmentally responsible. Students at a hundred colleges and universities  (and some high schools) are using the pledge at some level. The schools involved include liberal arts colleges (e.g. Bates and Grinnell); state universities (such as Colorado and Florida); private research universities (including Stanford and George Washington University); and schools outside the U.S. (e.g., Taiwan and Canada). The Pledge is also now found at graduate and professional schools, as well as high schools.

Graduates who voluntarily signed the pledge have sought out employment reflecting their values and visions, turned down jobs with which they did not feel comfortable, and worked to make changes once on the job. For example, they have promoted recycling at their organization, removed racist language from a training manual, worked for gender parity in high school athletics, and helped to convince an employer to refuse a chemical weapons-related contract.

The Pledge was initiated at Humboldt State University in California, Manchester College in Indiana coordinated the campaign effort for ten years, and Bentley University near Boston took over the reins during 2007-2008. The project has taken different forms at different institutions. For example, at Manchester, students sign and keep a wallet-size card stating the pledge, the pledge is printed in the formal commencement program, and students and supportive faculty wear green ribbons at commencement. (At a few schools, a different color ribbon is used.).  At Bentley University the pledge is a “capstone” of  its four-year Civic Leadership Program and at Humboldt State, student government funds a student pledge coordinator internship.

Depending upon the school, it might take several years to reach this level of institutionalization.  If one can get a few groups/departments involved, and get some media attention on (and off) campus, it will get others interested and build for the future. The project has been covered by newspapers (e.g., USA Today); magazines (e.g., Business Week), national radio networks (for instance, ABC); and local TV stations (like in Ft. Wayne, IN).

In a sense, the Pledge operates at three levels: students and graduates making choices about their employment; schools educating about values and citizenship rather than only knowledge and skills; and the workplace and society being concerned about more than just the bottom line. The impact is immense  if only a significant minority of the millions of college graduates each year sign and live out the Pledge.

The Graduation Pledge Alliance has a web site for campus organizers and pledge signers (www.graduationpledge.org ). Please keep us informed of any pledge efforts you are considering to undertake, as we try to monitor what is happening, and provide periodic updates on the national efforts (including hints on having a successful campaign). Contact  GPA@Bentley.edu for further information, questions, or comments.

The Graduation Pledge is a project of the Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility, Bentley University.

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