This past Friday evening, September 21, Marion Stoddart delivered the first Gray Colloquium presentation of the 2012-13 school year. The Gray Colloquium is designed to engage St. Mark’s students in an exploration of one complex global issue annually. It has been made possible by the generosity of former St. Mark's Board President and current School Trustee C. Boyden Gray '60. This year’s Gray Colloquium theme is “Global Challenges”, and Ms. Stoddart focused on environmental challenges and how an individual can make a difference.
In 1962, Marion Stoddart began a campaign to clean up the Nashua River in central Massachusetts. She reviewed that experience with her St. Mark’s audience in the Class of 1945 Hall, and she shared with the School community lessons she learned about civic engagement during that process: “How to be an effective leader,” she said, “and how to be an instrument of change impacting any social issue you are passionate about.” Remember, she asserted, “one person can do the work of one thousand.”
Central to her presentation was a 30-minute documentary film entitled Marion Stoddart: the Work of 1000. Created by filmmaker Susan Edwards (who was also present at this Gray Colloquium event), it tells the story of the polluted conditions prevalent in the nation’s waterways in the 1950s and 1960s, and focuses on Ms. Stoddart’s ultimately successful efforts to restore the Nashua River to its natural, unpolluted state. Pictures of the polluted river more than fifty years ago were shocking to see, and the story of Ms. Stoddart’s campaign was made all the more impressive by pictures of the same river today.
Ms. Stoddart grew up in Nevada, where water was scarce. “You had to pay for water to irrigate your farms,” she remembered, “so we knew how precious water was. This perspective definitely shaped my life.” The publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the early 1960s inspired an environmental movement. Marion Stoddart’s role in it was to tackle the enormous challenge of the Nashua River. Today, there is fishing, boating, and swimming in the Nashua River. Ms. Stoddart also noted that the Nashua River is now so clean that last spring a St. Mark’s rower was seen swimming in it after a crew race with Groton.
In her presentation, she emphasized for St. Markers five important lessons that she learned during her decades-long struggle to make a difference. First, create a vision of what it is you want in the world. “The secret of making a difference,” she said, “is you must feel passionately about what you want to do. You do not need to know how you are going to achieve your vision in order to create it.” If you wait for the “how” before beginning, she said, “you’ll never get started.” Second, you must be committed to your vision: “committed for the long haul; be persistent. Once you commit, you’ll find a way to do it.” Third, educate yourself on the issues. “Informing yourself,” she asserted, “is critical to success.” Fourth, educate others. “Build relationships,” she insists. “Identify stakeholders and make friends with them. Build trust and make allies. Grow your numbers because power lies in numbers. People make a difference.” Fifth, surround yourself with positive thinking people. “Never, never, never associate yourself with negative people,” she declared. “You’ll never change their minds.”
Ms. Stoddart hopes that her experiences will “inspire others to create a vision of what thay would like to accomplish in life.” She asked her St. Mark’s audience to consider “what challenges you want to make in the world. Ask yourself how you can play your part in meeting global challenges.”