Notes for the Earth from a Graduating College Student

by | May 1, 2022 | writing

Eunice Foote’s experiment for her studies on greenhouse gases, as recreated in the 2018 short film “Eunice.” Credit, Paul Bancilhon and Matteo Marcolini

I’ve been thinking more about my relationship with the earth and the choices I can make…

As a graduating college student, I’ve been thinking more about my relationship with the earth and the choices I can make to conserve it as I enter the world. As one of the older people of my generation in a large, extended family and a young woman now with roots in different places, my role in my family and communal tree is shifting from that of a girl to an older feminine archetype. With this new role in the world comes life choices that affect not only me, but the younger generations who will come to stand in my place in years to come.

Every action we take has a reaction. Recently, I was told by a dear friend a story about the Buddha, who has been said to have tasted the whole universe in a single grain of rice. This story makes me think that sometimes we focus too much on where we are going, when there is also value in the path of returning to the self.

While less than a tenth of my college education (nine out of 121 credits) was in philosophy, I consider it one of the bases of my knowledge system. But with much to learn still about the world and its truths, there are a few philosophies that ground me in the present now and that I hope can provide stable ground for those who reach this same age of young adulthood.

The earth is our home. Our lives are inseparable from its life. Below are five pieces of advice/philosophies I offer for those who come after me and for the earth itself.

“Exercise caution in all your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.”

This one comes from Max Erhrmann’s Desiderata and is a good one to keep in your pocket. It’s a sentiment we’ve heard before––in children’s books, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. When departing from an airport at 19 years old, I was once told by a new friend and wise woman, “Don’t trust anyone.” While there is purity and peace in the world, there are also pockets of greed and danger. Another friend at that airport told me, “If you walk in peace, you’ll pass through safely.” So, try to walk in peace through the world, but beware of trickery––especially of people who try to sell you more things you think you need. In reality, what we need is often less than what we think we need. As the poem goes, Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence . . . Remember that you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

“All I know is that I know [almost] nothing.” – Socrates

There are many types of belief systems out there. It is comforting to have knowledge. Being smart gives us a sense of security, but the caveat is that the knowledge of the mind is one-dimensional; where knowledge of the mind looks official when written in pen, there are other types of knowledge that transcend what can be communicated through language. From studying the mind and brain in college, I know that a cognitive scientist could be spot on in measuring my memory or attention, but I would urge the world to question the intentions behind these measurements. Too many people are brought up in a culture that values them for their intelligence and productivity and pays too little attention to how they’re doing. Too often, our education system says, “What is the answer to this problem?” and never, “How are you?” While there are entire testing systems aimed at measuring academic aptitude, there are also published scales that measure inner peace and enlightenment (Boyd-Wilson, B.M., & Walkey, F.H., 2015), (Wang, S.-M., Zhang, Z.-D., & Liu, X.-H., 2016).

Focus on the smallest actions.

Like the story of the Buddha I mentioned, the whole universe can be tasted in a grain of rice. Truth can be found in the smallest of things and confusion is often found in the largest. Often saviorism is rooted in trying to do too much for others when we have not even attended to people closest to us. Don’t go to another country and try to fix problems there. Focus on nourishing the relationships with the people in your life and yourself. Much can be learned from observing one’s own breath.

“You are never alone.”

We live and breathe the same air as every organism on earth. The planet is a biome. No one thing can survive without the presence of everything else. Learn to honor those interrelationships as sacred. A second wise woman told me this piece of advice, “You are never alone.” Hold this to be true to yourself in your place in the world. The air you breathe is taken up by the trees. The trash you throw away touches all life before it decays. Know that your relationship with the earth is inseparable. Your existence occupies a unique space in the universe that would not exist in the same way without you.

Seek out meaning.

Finally, meaninglessness arises when we are not conscious of this beautiful life we are living. Seek beauty in the small things, like blue skies and flowers in the spring. A third wise woman told me that all of our feelings can be boiled down to either love or fear. Seek out the ones that come from a place of love. Keep faith in the magic of sunrises and know that there is natural beauty wherever you go if you just keep your eyes open.

As I move forward into the world, I know that I will learn more about philosophy, wisdom, and life. But whatever those learnings end up being, I know that the choices I make will impact life on earth and the generations that come after me. In those choices, I hope to be driven by love, not fear and that I may learn to live without harm.

Be Well. Peace.


Boyd-Wilson, B.M., & Walkey, F.H. (2015). The Enlightenment Scale: A measure of being at peace and open-hearted. Pastoral Psychology. 64(3), 311-325.

Wang, S.-M., Zhang, Z.-D., & Liu, X.-H. (2016). Test with the Inner Peace State Scale in college students. Chinese Mental Health Journal, 30(7), 543–547.

Lily Cesario is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, with a bachelor’s degree in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. During college, she wrote for the Michigan Daily and the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology. She currently works as an Editorial Assistant, Research Assistant, and Social Media Manager.

We are especially grateful to Nova Institute for Health of People Places and Planet for the visionary, scholarly and material support that makes this project possible.