“Orange skies and smoke days are the future if we do not work to prevent climate change,” stated Ella Kowal ’25, member of the Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC). She spoke at the Earth Day On student demonstration, which was held on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall following the All-School Meeting (ASM) last Friday.
The demonstration, organized by the PASC, aimed to showcase Andover students’ willingness to engage with a proposed “day on” for Earth Day. An Earth Day On would look similar to Andover’s Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day On, where students would take the day off from classes to hear from guest speakers and attend workshops focused solely on sustainability and climate change.
Students gathered to listen to multiple PASC board members calling out for administrative action in climate education for the student body. Sebastian Lemberger ’25, one of the speakers at the demonstration and member of the PASC, explained how the event was a way to showcase students’ enthusiasm about sustainability to the administration.
“The reason the administration decided on not accepting the proposal [for an Earth Day On] that we sent this year was that they had not observed sufficient student engagement with sustainability initiatives on campus…which I think is ridiculous, because we’ve had very strong engagement. So I think the point of this demonstration was to have an event that we could get a lot of people to come to, and that we could be really loud about sending a message to the administration,” said Lemberger.
Although the demonstration was held during a free period of time for students, Brian Masse ’23, an organizer of the demonstration and member of the PASC, pointed out how there was a smaller crowd than expected. However, he explained how the low turnaround of students at the demonstration illustrated one of PASC’s reasons for the event.
“A big goal of the demonstration was to show the administration that students were willing to show up to talk about climate, but the busy schedule of Andover… presented this choice of, either you’re talking about sustainability, or you’re living your life. So it was a blessing in disguise that the demonstration itself was an example of that issue that Andover presents to students,” said Masse.
Kowal shared a similar sentiment to Masse, and she described how after ASM, students chose to rush to Paresky Commons to beat the lunch lines, instead of attending the demonstration to hear about an issue that directly affects them.
“It honestly just reinforces how important this event is, or how important it is to have an Earth Day On because there’s so many students who would choose something as temporary as being the first person in the lunch line, rather than trying to make a lasting impact on the Earth. That just reinforces how much we need [an Earth Day On] and how much the administration should invest in it,” said Kowal.
An Earth Day On is an important way for students not affiliated with the PASC to learn more about climate action, according to Lemberger. He also noted how the demonstration was focused on bringing more of the student body into climate action.
“The point of Earth Day On is to bring people who are not ‘super climate activists’ into the climate movement. And that’s also the point of demonstrations… When writing speeches, we were asked to write more ‘inspiring rallying speeches,’ rather than ‘dashing the administration for not approving Earth Day On’ speeches. The goal is to inspire and galvanize people who aren’t in the PASC into taking action,” said Lemberger.
Some of the Blue Key Heads attended the demonstration as well. Adaora Mbanefo ’24, one of the newly chosen Blue Key Heads, talked about their role in attracting a crowd, and she also shared her surprise at Andover’s lack of schoolwide climate education.
“I think that [the Blue Key Heads] being there and uplifting morale and also just getting people’s attention, getting them to come, I think that definitely helped a lot. Of course, environmental justice, environmental discussion, etc., are so critical and important, but what it really needs is that reach, and I felt that as a Blue Key Head, we’ve really helped further that… I was very surprised, first coming to the U.S. and finding out that climate change isn’t a required subject. Back home in South Africa, we are very big on discussing the environment… I found it really interesting that that wasn’t available here at Andover, where, we’re supposedly, at the top of high school level education,” said Mbanefo.
Masse spoke about the PASC’s overarching goals in climate education, with Earth Day On serving as a foundation for new opportunities for climate awareness at Andover.
“Earth Day On is a great precedent for sustainability and education: that’s our long-term goal. Phillips Academy is committed to higher education that prepares its students for the world outside of the school. An essential piece to that… is the climate crisis and preparing students to engage with that not only explicitly, but also the micro-ways in the different jobs that students are going to enter, the different levels of higher academia. We see Earth Day On as a step towards institutionalizing sustainable education. It’s a precedent that we can and are willing to have conversations [about],” said Masse.