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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist visits Wooster

Desi LaPoole

Features Editor

Around campus — in the libraries, academic buildings and especially in your rooms — there’s a necessary object to your livelihood that doesn’t usually warrant much attention. It’s the trashcan, and it does more damage than you might think. 

It’s perceived as an essential part of cleanliness and everyday life — and in our culture, it is. Our fast paced, on-the-go lifestyles have inflated our consumption of disposable goods, which has contributed to a multitude of global issues in areas ranging from economics to environments. This was the main focus of Edward Humes’ Peter Mortensen Lecture hosted by the College last Wednesday, Sept. 26.

Humes is the author of “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,” this year’s required summer reading for first-year students. In “Garbology,” Humes investigates our trash and all that comes with it: how we throw away so much garbage, what’s in it and what we end up paying for all of it. In his investigation, Humes brings to light how the commodities Americans buy, consume and sell are rooted in waste through raising questions of economics, culture and environmental impact.

His book, the primary focus of his Wednesday and Thursday talks, has had a profound impact on some students in the first-year class. Prior to the Wednesday lecture, some first-years shared their perspectives on his award-winning book. 

As a student interested in environmental studies, Nathaniel Seeley ’22 explained how “Garbology” was particularly eye-opening for him. He stated, “I thought it was really good because it provided solutions to what an individual could do to have an environmental impact and how collectively that could make a big impact.”

Making a positive impact on the environment through individual action was the major takeaway for most first years. For some, such as Raena Gamble ’22, reading the book has inspired them to not only implement changes in their daily lives, but help others make positive changes in their habits as well.

“I tell my parents now, ‘you better wash [recyclables] out,’ because we usually didn’t wash out our recyclables, and I didn’t know we had to do that. But now I’m like ‘you better wash that out,’ and I think that’s making some small impact on the world,” said Gamble.

The Peter Mortensen Lecture, a gift to the College in 2006 by alumni Peter Mortensen ’56, is a fund dedicated to lectures and performances related to first-year seminar (FYS) courses. 

While Humes’ lecture was similar to last year’s event, which featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s discussion of his book, “Writings on the Wall,” this year’s lecture was more conversational in tone. Two students, along with a faculty member, sat down in McGaw Chapel to interview Humes with questions submitted by FYS classes and other members of the campus community.

The following day, Sept. 27, Humes sat down in the more personal setting of room 140 in Ruth Williams hall to discuss topics of environmental communication. 

Humes, who won a Pulitzer for his journalistic work on the military, came to the small discussion with a plethora of insights to share with students interested in journalism, environmental science and environmental communication.

Some students were excited to talk about topics they had just learned about while reading the book over the summer. Prior to the event, some first-years recalled aspects of the book that opened their eyes to issues they did not take notice of before.

“Sadly, the world and ecosystem is falling apart and it’s all our fault,” said Gamble, “so learning about the things in this book and learning about the consequences of our actions really impacted me, you know; like I should be doing more.”

To learn more about “Garbology” and Edward Humes, visit www.edwardhumes.com.

(Photo from Orange Coast Magazine).

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