By Mary Lawrence Young ’21
This past year I was given the unique opportunity to serve as co-Chair of the Earth Week planning committee. Earth Day is celebrated every April 22nd; typically, William & Mary commemorates with a festival held on the Sunken Garden the Saturday after Earth Day. However, this past year, the Earth Day celebration looked totally different. Due to Covid-19, W&M’s Earth Day celebration had to be redesigned to fit within the safety precautions necessitated by the unique circumstances of a socially distanced and virtual world. This was a task left to the responsibility of me, my co-Chair, and the Director of W&M Sustainability. At the start of the Fall semester, we began the task of scanning the previous Earth Day manual to determine what may or not be feasible for this year’s celebration. Unfortunately, most of the activities and initiatives did not comply with the new Covid-19 procedures, leaving us at “square one” for planning the 2021 Earth Week. Since we would be unable to host a festival like in years past, we decided to celebrate Earth Day as a week-long series of events (i.e., an Earth Week celebration).
The winning 2021 Earth Week logo designed by Sarah Bomar ’24.
My co-Chair and I started scouring the internet looking for virtual Earth Week event ideas that other schools and businesses had previously done. We compiled a list of potential events, and from there, decided what events we wanted to pursue further and how we wanted the Earth Week celebration to be structured. We decided the Earth Week committee would function as a facilitator or hub of different events during Earth Week rather than sponsoring every activity ourselves. Moving into the beginning of the Spring, the Earth Week planning quickly skyrocketed. My co-Chair and I started recruiting members for our committee. We received several well-qualified and enthusiastic applicants; however, the decision was made to keep the committee small to foster a more effortless flow of communication. The Earth Week committee took over the role of reaching out to student organizations and academic departments about potentially sponsoring events during Earth Week and providing resources and example events to them from the previous semester’s information. Many of the Earth Week committee members also created infographics highlighting different sustainability-related topics posted on social media. These ranged from sustainable fashion and eating to environmental racism.
The Earth Week Committee diligently worked the week before Earth Week developing a calendar showcasing all the events being held throughout the week. The W&M community came up with numerous incredible events, both in-person and virtual, that were Covid-19 safe and fun and enjoyable for students. Some of my favorites included the Green Campus Scavenger Hunt, Earth Day Sun Rise Yoga, a 5k Clean-Up Run, Nature and Ecotherapy discussion, the Sustain-a-Bite Series, and the Residence Hall Composting Initiative. The Earth Week Committee partnered with the W&M Institute for Integrative Conservation and W&M Sustainability to host a two-day Sustainability Symposium. The Symposium focused on highlighting the voices of Indigenous peoples and local communities all over the world. It incorporated talks from two incredible keynote speakers, Céline Cousteau and Winona LaDuke, and was an enormous success with over 100 live viewers for both segments.
Sustainability Symposium keynote speakers Winona LaDuke (left) and Céline Cousteau (right).
While the 2021 Earth Day celebration looked very different from past years, the W&M community gathered together through a host of activities and initiatives, spending an entire week celebrating the Earth and what it means to live a sustainable life. I am so proud of the Earth Week Committee and the larger W&M community for our resilience to change when circumstances demand it and for the ability to bring positivity and creativity to such a difficult situation. Earth Week is only one example that shows how W&M has persevered through this year of challenges with great understanding and compassion.
When I originally applied to be a co-Chair of Earth Week back in April of 2020, I never imagined the celebration would still occur within the “pandemic-state,” let alone I would be spending the entirety of my senior year of college “masked up.” While this year has not been how I imagined my final year at W&M going, I am proud of the community fostered by my school and cherish all my wonderful memories. Thank you, William & Mary, for an unforgettable four years filled with incredible academic opportunities and life-long friends!