Noted author and environmentalist Stephanie Mills, who graduated from Mills College in 1969, will receive an honorary degree as part of Convocation.
Mills, who will also lead the keynote speech at the ceremony, is no stranger to the podium. She was valedictorian of her graduating class and emerged as an ecological activist with her 1969 Commencement address, titled “The Future is a Cruel Hoax.” In the speech, she pledged not to have children as a way to take a stand against what she saw as an overpopulation problem.
According to Renee Jadushlever, Vice President of Operations, Mills prefers the term bioregionalist to ecological activist. A biography of Mills describes bioregionalism as “harmonizing the natural systems of the locations where we live by making choices that enhance our local ecology, economy, and culture.” In other words, Mills believes that one’s individual choices effect the world’s environment.
Currently, Mills is working on a biography of peace activist and community economics pioneer Robert Swann. She is also active in promoting a local alternative currency system in her community in an effort to encourage local trade while lessening the impacts of global commerce.
Mills will receive a doctorate of humane letters, conferred as an honorary degree at the Oct. 2 ceremony. Usually, an honorary degree is bestowed as a way of highlighting a distinguished visitor’s contributions to a specific field, or to society in general.
Honorary degrees “are special recognition for people who have distinguished themselves in some way and have close connections to Mills,” said Marianne Sheldon, history professor and assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees.
Jadushlever said she and members of Mills’ Alumni Committee pushed Mills’ name forward for convocation speaker because they wanted the honoree to be a College alumnae.
According to President Jan Holmgren, the process for awarding an honorary degree begins with a recommendation that can come from anyone. “I have occasionally gotten recommendations from the faculty, from alumna and from students who are part of an organized group,” she said.
Holmgren discussed the significance of an honorary degree.
“It’s a very special thing to have an honorary degree from a college because it helps you to learn more about the college and to be more distinguished in the world,” said Holmgren. “Stephanie Mills will not only receive a hood, but she will be given a citation, be listed as on honorary degree recipient, and it be honored as a member of the Mills community in a renewed way.”
Convocation formally marks the beginning of the academic year. This event honors alumni and students in the graduating class as well as welcoming new students to campus. Also, the outgoing class shares their color with the incoming class. The College’s first convocation was held in 1902.
“Convocation is one of the two times a year when Mills can honor not only our own community members, but also distinguished people in the wider community.” Holmgren said.
Jadushlever said, “I think [Convocation] is important because it welcomes the new year. It lets new students become accustomed with the traditions of Mills College.”
As a part of Convocation festivities, the documentary Earth Days, featuring Stephanie Mills, will be screened from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Littlefield Concert Hall on Sat., Oct. 3. Through interviews with nine diverse activists, the documentary explores the four decades leading to the development of the modern environmental movement.
“The thoughtful documentary features a mix of archival footage with interviews with people who spearheaded the ecology movement,” said Kenneth Turan, a film critic for the Los Angeles Times.
After the screening, Mills will be signing some of her published works, which will be available for purchase, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Her books include Whatever Happened to Ecology? (a memoir that includes reflections on some of her experiences at Mills College and her work in the ecology movement), Epicurean Simplicity, Tough Little Beauties and In the Service of the Wild.
Despite numerous attempts, The Campanil was unable to reach Stephanie Mills for comment at the time this piece was published.