By Edwin B. Smith
University of Mississippi
Despite gloomy news on everything from climate change to the economy, bestselling author John Green told students in the University of Mississippi’s first-year/transfer class that he remains hopeful about the future, encouraging them to help move mankind forward.
Green spoke to some 4,000 students Tuesday (Aug. 23) evening as the keynote speaker for the university’s annual Fall Convocation at The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss.
“I really believe that hope is the correct response to the strange goal of human consciousness,” Green said. “Humanity in general, and you in particular, are good news. I know not everything is trash. I know there is cause for hope.”
While writing “The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet” (Dutton, 2021), Green pondered over the complex conditions mankind’s advances have created. Despite the problems caused by this progress, Green said he is broadly in favor of humans as a species.
“As far as species go, we are a little bit of a catastrophe,” he said. “But we’re also by far the most interesting thing ever to happen on Earth.”
Green said “everything is interesting” if you pay attention to it.
“When I refer to ‘attention,’ I’m not speaking of any sense of focusing without distraction,” he said. “By ‘attention,’ I only mean our consciousness itself.
“When I refer to attention, I am referring to your soul. I think whatever we pour our soul into is interesting.”
Whatever people give their attention to can be quite valuable, the author said.
“What you do with your moments of attention, when taken together, will be known as your life,” he said. “That’s what learning ultimately is – the application of attention to your soul stuff.”
Challenging students to live in the present, Green said he is confident that they will carry mankind forward to better times ahead.
“The work of your life will be to care and to be cared for,” he said. “Through the application of our immediate consciousnesses, all of us can be pillars and props to help each other and our species to advance and improve.”
Earlier in his presentation, Green reflected upon his last visit to Oxford and his connections to Ole Miss.
“The last time I was in Oxford was in March 2005,” he said. “It was a few days after the publication of my first novel. I had been invited here by the Oxford Conference for the Book, the first public event I ever participated in after I was a published author.
“One of my dearest friends from high school, Chip Duncan, now teaches at Ole Miss, so I’m thinking about staying up all night with Chip, reading Stephen King novels and telling stories about our childhoods.”
Green’s message resonated with many in the audience.
“His view of how the world works is impressive in itself,” said Christina Egtrya, a freshman journalism major from Florida. “I’ve already read several of his books and am looking forward to reading his latest one.”
Following Green’s address, incoming freshmen and transfer students each received a limited-edition challenge coin distributed by Columns Society members and First Year Experience Student Success Program staff. The theme depicted on this year’s coin is the 60th anniversary of the university’s integration by James Meredith in 1962.
Others on the program included Chancellor Glenn Boyce; Charlotte Pegues, vice chancellor for student affairs; Brent Marsh, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students; and Lia Osman, Associate Student Body president. Campus deans and faculty representatives also appeared on stage.
Boyce said Green’s message holds power for the incoming Class of 2026.
“Mr. Green was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize,” he said. “His book ‘The Anthropocene Reviewed’ offers you a new way to look at the world: as a thoughtful and enthusiastic reviewer who carefully examines all sides of issues, weighing the positive and negative, the strengths and the weaknesses, before ultimately arriving at a conclusion.
“It is an excellent lens for you to begin to explore the world as a true critical thinker.”
Natasha Jeter, assistant vice chancellor for wellness and student success, said having the author and podcaster as the Fall Convocation speaker was rewarding.
“John invited us to join him in examining our human experience in concert with the planet,” Jeter said. “The book and his convocation address inspired, challenged and motivated us to take action and make our community and the world a better place.”
New students earlier received a special university edition of “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” which was chosen as the 2022 Common Reading Experience selection. The book was nominated for the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction and it also won the 2021 Goodreads Choice Award in the category of Best Nonfiction.
For more information on the Common Reading Experience, visit http://umreads.olemiss.edu/.