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Famous Environmentalist Inspires Students


Courtney Francisco

Staff Writer

Have you ever tried to not drive for one day, or even one week? Have you ever tried not speaking for one hour, or even a whole day? Roanoke College students and faculty met a man who did both of those and more. Dr. John Francis visited Roanoke College Wednesday night as a part of Honors Conference Week to tell students all about his journey of not riding in motorized vehicles for 22 years, and also about his vow of silence for 17 years.

It all started in 1971 when he witnessed the oil spill in California that was detrimental to the lives of so many. Francis could smell the oil and see people struggling to clean it up. He saw birds covered in it and fish dying from it. He saw his environment taking bad hits, and realized how selfish it was for him to participate in this industry when it could do things like that to his environment. After his long-time friend passed away in a horrible accident he questioned the certainty of life. That is when he decided to stop using motorized vehicles. He had only his banjo and his backpack, and he took off to find himself.

His journey continued when he got fed up with arguing all the time with people about why he didn’t want to ride in cars, and decided that on his 27th birthday, he would be silent for a whole day so he could listen and not argue for just one day. This one day turned into 17 years.  It was obvious even over a decade after he started talking again that he knew how to communicate without his voice. He was constantly using hand gestures that were almost distracting.

Francis became a member of the United Nations as an environment ambassador, and also wrote pollution policies for the United States Coast Guard. He also has written two books, and there is a movie being made about him right now from the same director as the hit movie “2012.” He showed RC students that one person can make a difference. After going to listen to Francis, Diana Monkouski, 14, said “I do believe that one person can make a difference. Take for example Mother Teresa or Ghandi.”

RC students reacted to his presentation with amazement, and the Faculty members were especially pleased based on the amount of questions they had to ask him at the end. Rita Yoe, 13, was definitely a fan of his presentation.

“He wasn’t trying to argue or make a statement for attention, but rather to tell his story and let people form their own opinions. As for his story, I thought it was inspiring. Being dedicated to a cause in the way that Dr. Francis has been is something pretty rare in our society.” Yoe said.

Francis is living proof that one person can make a difference. This man has done so much, and the Honors Program was so glad to have him come. It was a good choice on their part, and Roanoke Students really enjoyed it.