Maxwell alumna Phaedra Stewart ’91 finds it difficult to look at the world without seeing opportunities to connect with people, raise their spirits and empower them to make their lives better. A self-described serial entrepreneur (some might say a serial…
Keynote Address by Dr. Jane Goodall
Keynote Address by Dr. Jane GoodallMay 16, 2005Kevin Morrowkdmorrow@syr.edu
Thank you for that introduction, and good morning, everyone. I would like to start off by congratulating this graduating class. Just as though a chimpanzee were here to say “Hey, you’ve done great, this is exciting.” (Vocalizes like chimpanzee.)
And if there was time, I would greet each one of you with the chimpanzee exuberance of congratulations, which is an embrace and a kiss. We won’t have time for that, unfortunately. It is amazing to me to think that a little girl that was born in England, in London, over 70 years ago now, to a family without enough money for a bicycle, let alone a motorcar, is now traveling around the world and being invited to speak on a wonderful occasion like this. And I ask myself, “How did it happen?”
And it makes me think of a book, a story which perhaps some of you know-how the birds got together and had a competition to see who could fly the highest. And the mighty eagle was sure that he would win, with those strong wings he flies higher and higher, and the other birds get tired. And in the end, even the eagle can fly no higher. But that’s all right, because where he is, he’s up above everyone-at least that’s what he thought. But hiding in the feathers of his back is a tiny little jenny wren, and now she flies up, and flies highest of all. And the reason I love this story is because it’s so symbolic. If we think of our life as an effort to always fly just a little bit higher, to reach a goal that’s just a little bit out of our grasp, how high can we go by ourselves? We all need our eagle. And when I look back over my life, and I think of the wonderful people who’ve supported me throughout, I think of them as like the feathers on my eagle. There are all those working at Gombe National Park, where the chimpanzees still continue after 45 years, and I think of the amazing friends everywhere I go; there are wonderful friends, people who’ve helped me through difficult times, like John Couri sitting here, who was the person who invited me here in the first place, from your board of trustees at Syracuse. I think of the amazing people working in the Jane Goodall Institute, and for our Roots and Shoots program, and there’s a group of them over there, Mary and Rob and Katherine and Rick.
But most of all, I think of my family. And in particular, as you heard, my mother. And all I’ll say about my mother now, is that when I was 10 years old, I fell in love with Tarzan. I mean, of course a little girl, loving animals, reading books like “Doctor Doolittle,” reading about Tarzan of the Apes-I fell madly in love with him. And he married that wimpy Jane! Was I ever jealous. But at any rate, that was when I decided, “When I grow up, I will go to Africa, I will live with animals, I will write books about them.” But back then, Africa was the Dark Continent. It was filled with poison arrows and sinister messages going out on the drumbeats at night. And we didn’t have any money. And girls didn’t do that sort of thing. But the only person who didn’t laugh at me, who didn’t say “Jane, get real-think about something you can achieve,” was my mother. She used to say, “Jane, if you really want something, if you work really hard, if you take advantage of opportunity, and if you never give up, you will achieve your goal.” And you young graduates, you had a dream-your dream was to get this precious degree that you’re receiving today, as a result of your hard work and taking opportunities. And as you take it, think of these amazing people who’ve helped you reach one of the first goals in your life, like your feathers-big, strong feathers and small ones, with every one taking its part.
During the 45 years that we’ve studied these amazing chimpanzee beings, it becomes ever more striking how like us they are. Kissing, embracing, holding hands, patting each other on the back, long-term supportive affectionate bonds between mothers and their offspring that can last 60 or more years. The fact that they can have emotions like happiness, sadness, fear and despair. They have vivid personalities. And biologically, the structure of DNA they have differs from us by only 1 percent. And today we acknowledge that there is nothing in the animal kingdom alive today more like us than the chimpanzee.
When I first went to Cambridge University to get a Ph.D., I was told I’d done everything wrong. I shouldn’t have given the chimpanzees names; they should have been numbers-that would be more scientific. And I couldn’t talk about their personalities, their minds or their feelings-that was anthropomorphic. But at that time, I had not been to the university. I did my Ph.D. without a B.A. But instead of being intimidated by these professors, I thought back to my childhood. My dog, Rusty-he taught me that animals do have personalities and minds and feelings. And I tell this story to you young students moving on now. Have the courage of your convictions. Keep an open mind. But don’t let other people convince you that you’re wrong until you’ve really thoroughly explored your own beliefs. Can they stand up? If they can, have the courage of those convictions.
It’s very sad to find that these amazing chimpanzees who taught us so much about our place in the natural world are in such grave danger in the wild. They are becoming extinct as we speak. They are being horribly abused in many captive situations. When I realized the full extent of their plight, in 1986 at a conference, when we had a session on conservation and a session on conditions in captivity and in labs and circuses, it was a gathering for the first time of all those people studying chimpanzees across Africa and in captivity. I went into that conference as a scientist. I planned to continue collecting data, working with my students in Africa. I came out as an activist. Since that day, I have not spent more than three weeks in any one place. I realized that I had to try and do something for these amazing chimpanzees, that the more I began traveling around Africa, talking to heads of state in the different countries, to try and help people understand what was going on, the more I realized that so many of Africa’s problems can be laid directly to the unsustainable lifestyles of most of us in the Western world. And I found that so many problems around the world are interlinked, so that understanding one problem raises other questions about other problems that caused it. And I found that, as I traveled, I met many young people like you that seemed to have little hope for the future. Not on a day like today, but maybe in high school, maybe in your early days at college. Today is a day of joy. But think back, perhaps, to some days when you looked at what’s happening in the world, and you felt it was a pretty bleak world. And it is, isn’t it? If we think of the developing world, we think of the crippling poverty, the hunger, disease, the ethnic conflicts, if we think of forests going and deserts spreading, and animals disappearing, sometimes forever, and the loss of biodiversity, and we think about how we are poisoning this beautiful planet, so that in some cases, children are born, and the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, is making them sick. And when I was talking to these students around the world, they mostly told me, “We feel that you compromised our future to such an extent that it’s not going to be possible for us to turn things around.”
And that’s what led to this Roots and Shoots program, that is now in more than 90 countries. It began 12 years ago. It’s a program with a symbolic name. Roots make a firm foundation. Shoots seem tiny, but with each the sum together they can break through a brick wall. See the brick wall as all these problems that we have inflicted on the climate. Then you see it’s a message of hope. Hundreds and thousands of young people like you around the world can break through, can make this world a better place. That’s what you’re celebrating today-the power of the individual to make a difference. That is the main message of Roots and Shoots-every individual impacts the world every single day. And that means you and me. What we do does indeed matter. Every Roots and Shoots group chooses three different kinds of project to make the world a better place. For people, your own community, reaching out to tsunami earthquake victims and those living in abject poverty. Projects that make things better for animals-domestic animals, the animals we eat, the animals we share our homes with, as well as wildlife. And to make things better for the environment that we all share and that today is so sick. Roots and Shoots is very much about breaking down the barriers that we build between people of different cultures, different ethnic groups, different religions, different countries. We know that in many cases, we need to change attitudes around the world. We don’t want to change those attitudes through violence, through guns and warfare. We say that our tools for change are knowledge and understanding. Know the facts, think of the big picture, hard work and persistence, roll up your sleeves, do something. And don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first time. And finally, and most important of all, love and compassion, leading to respect for all life.
The question I’m asked most often is, “Dr. Jane, you talk about hope. You’ve written a book called Reason for Hope. You can talk for reason to hope. Do you really have hope? Can you look around at the dark, frightening world today and say, ‘I truly have hope’?”
I wouldn’t stand here and tell you I had hope if I didn’t. My reasons for hope are simplistic perhaps, but they work for me. First of all, the human brain-think what we’ve done. Think about the brain, you young people graduating today, how this little funny thing in your head has helped you get the degree that you’re going to go away with. We’ve been to the moon. We’ve created amazing technology to keep people alive. Christopher Reeve would have been dead long before, but for the wonders of modern technology. So would my own mother; she had an artificial valve in her heart. So how do you think it is, that this amazing creature with its wonderful brain, so clever-how is it that we’re also making weapons of mass destruction, and creating technology that destroys, and farming by putting poison on the soil that is reaching into our bodies-what’s happened? Do you know what I think? I think there’s been a disconnect sometimes, between this wonderful brain and our human heart. And that disconnect means that we lose wisdom. And maybe we’re clever, but we need to be wise. So remember, again, graduates, as you move out into the world, think about the importance of human love and compassion, and link that to your brains, your enthusiasms, and everything that you do.
My second reason for hope is the amazing resilience of nature. We can destroy things, we can pollute rivers, we can create a horrible bare stretch of land which was once beautiful. But, give it time, have some help, and once again it can be restored. That is the great hope in Africa where trees have been cut down and deserts have spread-with love, with hope and understanding, once again, the deserts can grow trees. That is the hope for the chimpanzees, and so many other creatures. Animals on the very brink of extinction can be given a second chance. And right close to here, one of those miracles happened, with the peregrine falcon, now in many places off the endangered species list.
The third reason for hope is the tremendous energy, determination, enthusiasm and sometimes courage of young people. I’m asked, “Where do you get the strength to travel 300 days a year all over the world?” I get it from groups of young people with shining eyes. And our programs now are pre-school right through university, even springing up in prisons and senior citizen residences. And everywhere I go, there are people with shining eyes, young people, telling me what they’ve done to make the world a better place. And through our programs, these young people are now linked together around the world. Yes, there is great hope in this enthusiasm, dedication, commitment.
Finally, the indomitable human spirit. You’ve already heard that talked about from this very lectern this morning-Roosevelt, Christopher Reeve, I could add many more, like Nelson Mandela. But it’s not just the people we hear about. This indomitable human spirit, these people who tackle seemingly impossible tasks, inspire those around us, people who overcome seemingly crippling physical disabilities, and lead lives that are inspirational to everyone-they’re all around us. They’re out in the streets, they’re in the stores, they’re in the garden, they’re in every country-and I am so proud to call so many of them my friends. So with these three reasons for hope-yes, I do have hope.
And with my last few minutes, a story. It’s a story about a chimpanzee who was born in Africa. He was captured by shooting his mother; that’s the only way you can capture a young chimpanzee. He was shipped off to North America, to live in a zoo for about 15 years, alone in a small, old-fashioned cage with a cement floor and iron bars. He was named Jojo. Then, a new zoo director raised the money for a huge enclosure, which was surrounded by a moat filled with water, because chimpanzees don’t swim, and 19 other chimpanzees were brought in. They were all carefully introduced to each other, because that’s always a problem-there is a dominance conflict to sort out. But finally they were put out in the enclosure. Everything was fine for a while, and then one of the new young males starts challenging Jojo-swaggering from foot to foot, waving branches, slapping with his hands, stamping with his feet, looking big and fierce. Jojo didn’t know what it meant. Jojo had not had an opportunity to learn. He was terrified. He ran into the water. Didn’t know anything about water, either. In his fear, he got over the barrier that was built to prevent chimpanzees from drowning in the deep water beyond. Three times he came up gasping for air, and then he disappeared under the water.
Luckily for Jojo, there was a man there who visits the zoo one day a year with his wife and three little girls. And he jumped in, even though a keeper grabbed him and told him he would be killed, that male chimpanzees are stronger than us and can be dangerous. He pulled away, and swam, feeling under the water, touched Jojo, and got this 130-pound dead weight over his shoulder, felt some movement, got over the barrier, pushed Jojo up into the enclosure, and rejoined his rather hysterical family.
There was a woman there with a camera, who doesn’t remember filming, but she did. So you can look at that piece of video and see and hear what happened next. The people on the far side of the moat start screaming at Rick to come back, that he’s going to be killed, because they can see three big male chimps, with hair bristling , coming to see what the commotion is. And at the same time, Jojo is sliding back into the water because the bank was too steep. And for a moment, the camera is all over the place, but amazingly it steadies on Rick with one hand on the railing, and you see him looking up at his family, looking up at these three males, and then looking down at Jojo just disappearing under the water. And for a moment he stands there, motionless, and then he went back. Then again he pushed Jojo up, and went on pushing, and he ignores his family and the people and the three approaching chimps. And he pushes and pushes and Jojo’s making feeble efforts, and just in time grabs onto a thick tuft of grass, and just in time, Rick gets back over the barrier as Jojo pulls himself to safety. And that evening, that little piece of film was flashed across North America, and the then-director of the Jane Goodall Institute saw it. And he called up Rick and said, “That was a very brave thing to do. You must have known it was dangerous. Everyone was telling you. What made you do it?” And he said, “Well you see, I happened to look into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a man. And the message was, ‘Won’t anybody help me?'”
And you see, that’s the message I’ve seen in so many eyes as I’ve traveled around the world. Chimpanzees for sale in the market, elephants chained on cement, dogs thrown out in the street. I’ve seen it in the eyes of children who’ve seen their parents killed in the ethnic conflicts, in the eyes of kids in our inner cities mixed up with violence with nowhere to go. And if you see that look, and you feel it in your heart, you have to jump in and try to help. And my greatest feeling of hope is that although maybe there are more problems in the world today than ever before, wherever I’ve been, whatever problem I have encountered, there has always been a person or a group of dedicated passionate people risking their health or their lives, sometimes giving up their lives, working for nothing or a mere pittance, in order to try to right that wrong. That’s what Roots and Shoots is all about. But also, that’s what it’s going to be like for you, you young people moving away from the safe home that you’ve had, going out into the world. You will see this look. You will see it more than you should ever have to see it. And then it will be up to your heart and your wisdom to decide what to do.
So that’s my last message. There is hope in this world. There truly is hope. There is so much going on that is so exciting, so vibrant, more perhaps now than ever before. And set against the darkness, there is this brightness, these shining lights that you carry as you move out. Let them light the darkness. Light other lights with them. You know the saying “One candle can light a hundred more without dimming, but making the world bright.” Take your light and do that. And see these looks for help in eyes, and use the skill you’ve gained, the wisdom you’ve acquired, the knowledge that you’re able to move on confidently into this world. Remember those who’ve helped you get there, without whom you cannot move forward. And my real, hearty congratulations to you on this very joyous day. And I hope your celebrations go on all night, and you take this spirit with you and remember it when there are dark times ahead, as there will be. Never forget this wonderful day, and again congratulations. (Chimpanzee vocalization.)