Skip to site content

Graduation Pledge Alliance Seeks to Improve Society

Roughly 1 million students graduate from college each year. And more of them are joining the Graduation Pledge Alliance, which aims to make students think about social and environmental consequences of their work.

Students at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Humboldt State University in California created the Graduation Pledge Alliance in 1987. They simply wanted graduating students to consider, when job hunting, what employers were doing for their profits. To that end, they developed a pledge form and urged students to sign it.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

The idea spread to other campuses, including Manchester College in northern Indiana, which joined the campaign in 1988. The pledge was so successful at Manchester that the college assumed campaign coordination responsibilities in 1996. 
Roughly 130 colleges and universities now participate, at some level, in the GPA, said Neil Wollman, senior research fellow at Manchester’s Peace Studies Institute. Wollman oversees the GPA.

A typical GPA form reads: “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.” 
Signers are encouraged to keep a copy in their wallet as a reminder. Those who take the pledge also wear green ribbons at commencement ceremonies.

“For me, it was a way to publicly say to other people, not just myself, this is something that I’m subscribing to because it’s something I believe in,” said Rachael Waas Smith, who graduated from Manchester in May with a double-major in peace studies and sociology.  
“I think it’s important to have a statement that you can hold yourself accountable to when you’re looking for and pursing career and lifetime goals,” Waas Smith told EthicsDaily.com. “The pledge articulates a statement of affirmation of holding yourself responsible for the well-being of all people. That’s something I believe in wholeheartedly.”

Waas Smith, who will begin volunteering with AmeriCorps in Portland, Ore., in October, said the pledge form and public commitment make one “think about it more. It holds more weight in terms of your decision-making.” 
Wollman said the GPA really functions on three different levels.

First, the GPA relies on individuals, who pledge to consider social and environmental factors. Second, it’s a chance for schools to promote their values and show others what they really stand for. And third, it’s an opportunity for society to better itself. 
As with most movements, however, there are naysayers.

“I’ve heard all the arguments against it,” said Wollman. “Some think it’s too liberal. We’ve heard that it’s trying to mix politics into commencement.” 
Others have said students don’t really stick to the pledge.

But Wollman and staff continue to spread the word. They use the Internet mostly, he said, to promote the pledge. They also rely on media attention, having garnered quite a bit in recent months. 
And they have graduates in the field, putting the pledge into practice.

“It was just a natural thing,” said Dana Nixon of taking the pledge. The biology major graduated from Manchester in 1996. She now works for a nonprofit environmental advocacy group in Indianapolis. 
“The goal of the whole project is to think about the impacts that we have as humans, not only on the environment, but socially,” she told EthicsDaily.com.

“When you take a job, think about the social and environmental impacts that a company would have,” she said. “The more people think about that, the more likely we are to have a just world.” 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

Visit the Graduation Pledge Alliance Web site.