While considering a career, a recent graduates finds something better -- a passion

By: Karen Hucks
JP Kemmick knew as a kid in Billings, Mont., long before he came to Pacific Lutheran University, that he wanted to be a writer.

But he felt like he needed a fallback – a career sure to make him some money, just in case – so he planned to become a teacher. His heart wasn’t in it, though, and he feared that job would be laden with bureaucracy.

It wasn’t long before PLU’s mantra to find more than a career, a personal life path that matters to you, the community and the world, seeped in.

“I just kind of gave up on the idea of a safety net,” Kemmick said. “Then I accidentally happened upon a safety net.”

It was his love of the environment and a commitment to save it.

In the last four years, Kemmick has become a driving force in making environmental changes on campus. He brought worm composting bins, attention to food waste and an eye toward renewable energy to campus.

On Sunday, May 27, 22-year-old Kemmick was one of 525 undergraduate students, joined by 100 graduate students, to take part in PLU’s annual commencement ceremony.

The graduates come from 15 countries: Norway, Canada, Denmark, France, China, Vietnam, Zambia, Albania, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Bhutan, Venezuela and the United States. Forty percent of the undergraduates spent part of their college education abroad, studying in more than 36 countries.

Doug Oakman, dean of humanities, said that like Kemmick, students often come to PLU with an idea in mind but then change direction.

“Their understanding of self and their life trajectory is soft,” Oakman said.

Incoming freshmen come in without the “big questions” that college inspires.

“Boy, do they get them,” Oakman said. “‘What is my life purpose?’ would be one, and not just in terms of career.”

He said students will change their employment several times during their lifetimes, and PLU tries to educate students to negotiate that. It’s a liberal arts education that encourages students to question what the “best life” is, who is truly happy and whether financial success is a big enough purpose in life, he said.

“Educating for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care,” Oakman said. “Care for other people, care for the environment, care for the world.”

Kemmick credits his mother for instilling a moral code in him, and his father for taking him as a child to recycle. At college, he got involved with a group called GREAN – Grass Roots Environmental Action Now.

He and other students promoted a program called, “Are you Going to Eat That?” in which he and others in the group stood at the trash cans in the cafeteria, eating food off diners’ plates to point out how much they wasted. The head of dining services offered Kemmick a job boosting sustainability efforts in the cafeteria – better recycling, reducing food waste and increasing local purchasing.

As the head of GREAN in his senior year, he built composting bins and bought shares from a local farm.

This spring, he wrote a resolution that would raise tuition by $20, of which $16 would support renewable energy. The other $4 would go directly into campus environmental efforts such as buying more efficient light bulbs.
He gathered more than 1,000 signatures, the student government passed it, and PLU’s Board of Regents will consider it in October.

Rose McKenney, who teaches geology and environmental studies and advises GREAN, said Kemmick was able to get students who weren’t traditionally in the environmentalism movement interested in his projects.

“He’s very committed, and he has a huge amount of energy,” McKenney said.

Kemmick is trying to get a job at PLU next year, to continue working on sustainability issues. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll find an environmental activist job.

“I really do want to write,” Kemmick said. “That is the final goal. But I realized the environment wasn’t going to get fixed up soon.”

Karen Hucks is the higher education reporter at The News Tribune in Tacoma, where this story first appeared on May 24. It is reprinted with permission. © The News Tribune