Dear President Berkey,
My name is Linnea Palmer Paton and I write to you as a representative of the students who are upset that Rex Tillerson will be giving the commencement address.
As CEO of ExxonMobil, he has personally threatened the peace and prosperity of our futures by condemning us to a world wrought with the unrest and devastation caused by rapid climate change. Not only has ExxonMobil recently funded disinformation on climate change (a disgrace to a scientific institution such as ours), Tillerson has insisted that fossil fuels will remain the primary fuel source for decades to come despite recognizing the grim warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By committing to a fossil fuel-based future, he condemns the people of many nations to dislocation, starvation, and death. Therefore, Tillerson has consistently shown that he values profits more than ethical decision-making and protecting our future.
ExxonMobil’s business model is based on environmental exploitation for short-term gain. This is not a model that our university should support. At the very least, we, as conscientious members of the WPI community and proud members of the Class of 2011, will not give Tillerson the honor of imparting on us his well-wishes (his blessings if you will) for our futures on our graduation day, when he is largely responsible for undermining them. Indeed, it goes against our conscience to remain seated during Tillerson’s speech as if we consent to its message of a prosperous future —a message that is unfounded by its bringer.
Not being allowed to receive our diplomas on stage is a small price that many of us are willing to pay for standing up for our values, our integrity, and our conscience.
And still, we are asking you to reconsider this decision. We have worked hard the past four years to earn the privilege to walk across the stage. This is not a privilege that should be withdrawn lightly. As a liberal institution, supposedly a bastion of respect for intellectual freedom, we believe that this is an unjust punishment for expressing our dissent. As you know, we have sought to walk out with as little disruption as possible while still remaining true to our values, and we have provided several options for doing so.
We would like to meet with you to discuss this further. We hope that you will sincerely consider our request.
Linnea M. Palmer Paton
WPI Students for a Just and Stable Future