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Mary Robinson visits Grand Rapids as part of local college series

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Story by Kirsten Fedorowicz, Editor-in-Chief
Photo courtesy of Claudia Boerigter

On Jan. 23, 2019 Mary Robinson visited Calvin College as part of the college’s January Speakers Series.

Robinson, the seventh president of Ireland, held office from 1990-1997. After leaving Office, she served as the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, a UN special Envoy for climate change, and a founding member of The Elders, an organization for which she is now the president. Robinson is also the founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, through which she works for a human rights-centered vision of climate change.

The event took place in Convent Auditorium on Calvin’s campus. Robinson took the stage at 12:30, after an introduction by Calvin’s Vice President of Student Affairs.

A pale-haired older woman, Robinson faced a full auditorium from a wooden podium with the Calvin logo on it. Robinson started the speech by talking about her background. Born in the west of Ireland, Robinson said that she “had a sense of justice from an early age.”

Robinson was educated at Trinity College Dublin and went on to graduate from Harvard Law in 1968.

“I wanted law to be an instrument of justice,” Robinson told the audience.

Robinson was elected to the Irish Senate at the age of twenty-five, a startling upset of a system that had previously only elected older white men. She served in the senate from 1969-1989. Soon after, people scouting for the next Irish president started knocking on her door. Though she did not expect to win, she triumphed over her opponents and was popular for her seven years in office.

The majority of Robinson’s speech focused on her work of climate justice. In her human rights work, Robinson began to focus on on the human element of climate justice. In her activism, she has worked to support and gather stories from affected communities, mostly poor, indigenous peoples throughout the world. Her work also emphasizes how deeply climate change affects women and how women play a huge role in climate change innovation.

Her message was one of both the accomplishments that have been made in towards a better world and the issues that are still challenging us. She cited the Paris Climate Agreement and the successes of clean energy in lower-income nations as accomplishments; as challenges, she highlighted wealthy nations like the U.S. struggle to have similar achievements.

Robinson’s parting message to the audience was that “Every one of us has to take climate change seriously in our personal lives … do your own bit, then get angry at the government, both nationally and internationally.”

After forty-five minutes of speaking, Robinson retired to one of two arranged living room chairs on the left side of the podium. A member of the Calvin faculty asked Robinson the questions that came in from twitter, email and paper notes.

After the event, Robinson signed books and greeted the audience.

Robinson’s appearance at Calvin was part of the college’s January Series. The January Series has been happening for over thirty years. At Calvin, the January term is separate for second semester, allowing students to take part in different learning activities. The speakers hosted for this series are all free and open to the public.

The January Series takes place over fifteen days, hosting speakers on a variety of topics. Other speakers in 2019 included Ruth Carter, a costume designer for films such as “Black Panther” and “Selma,” and Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to speak publicly about her lawsuit against Larry Nassar.

If you would like to learn more about about Robinson’s climate justice, you can read her book “Climate Justice” or listen to her podcast, “Mothers of Invention.”

About the writer: 
Kirsten opinion editorKirsten Fedorowicz is a senior who is pursuing an English major with a writing emphasis and a Women’s Studies minor. She enjoys embroidering and social justice, particularly when the two are combined. 

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