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LYNN NEARY, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Lynn Neary.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in family.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the power of failure.

Unidentified Man #4: And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

JAY ALLISON: This, I believe.

NEARY: Today's essay for This I Believe is unusual. It was written, as many have been, for a classroom assignment.

Michelle Gardner-Quinn was an undergraduate at the University of Vermont when she submitted it for her environmental studies class in October of last year. Two days later, in a random crime, she was kidnapped and murdered.

Excerpts of the essay were read at her memorial service and at the Live Earth concerts. Here is our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

ALLISON: Michelle Gardner-Quinn's life-affirming belief is made more powerful and poignant by her death. We contacted Michelle's parents who gave us permission to broadcast her essay, and they suggested that it be read by her environmental studies professor at the University of Vermont, Cecilia Danks who made the assignment.

Danks is spending the summer in Hayfork, California, where she does her research in community forestry. And that is where we recorded her, reading Michelle Gardner-Quinn's essay for This I Believe.

Professor CECILIA DANKS (Environmental Studies, University of Vermont): (Reading) I believe in upholding reverence for all life. I believe that humanity has a responsibility to the Earth and to the life that we share our experience with.

As a child, I found joy digging in the dirt, examining the miracle of life. Everything creepy-crawly was fascinating to me, and I spent countless hours in my backyard exploring what wonders lay beneath. Although some people might be repulsed by this notion, these creatures did not represent slimy pests to me. Rather, such experiences in the natural world taught me about the diversity of life that could be found in any microcosm. I felt attuned with the cycles of life, my favorite being the spring.

During these budding months, I could watch the egg sacs of praying mantises as they opened or collect robin-blue eggshells that had fallen from the nests. This was where I felt a strong connection to the natural cycles of creation. This connection has inspired awe in me that I feel strongly to this day. It is a feeling deep within me that has inspired my passions and pursuits as an environmentalist.

As I grew older, I discovered that this reverence for life was not shared by all of humanity. Rather than respecting the natural world as a community of life, the environment has been valued in terms of the resources that could be exploited. Industrialization has turned life into an industry and systematically destroys the essential diversity that provides richness to the human experience.

Our self-inflicted ecological crisis has reached such a point that we no longer endanger isolated bioregions. So many toxins have been spewed into the atmosphere as a result of our industrial greed that the climate of our planet is changing at an alarming rate. Climate change threatens all life forms by altering fundamental natural cycles, giving little time for evolutionary responses.

These detrimental impacts are visible today as polar bears lose their habitat of sea ice, the sex of sea turtle eggs is skewed, whales have less krill to feed on, and coral reefs are bleached, to cite just a few examples. Climate change also has detrimental impacts on cultures and humanity's well being as more people are becoming environmental refugees. Little is being done to curb this crisis and, within our lifetime, the ecological functioning of planet Earth will be forever altered.

I believe that my connection to all life forms prevents me from sitting back and watching this catastrophe. I believe that we should understand our place in our regional ecosystems and communities, as well as pledge our allegiance to the Earth as a whole. I believe that all creatures, whether they are found in my backyard or halfway around the globe, should not suffer as a result of human greed.

The reality of climate change is here and now; it is the environmental battle of our generation and generations to come. In honor of all life, I am dedicating myself to preventing this worldwide ecological crisis.

ALLISON: Michelle Gardner-Quinn's essay for This I Believe, read by her environment studies teacher, Cecilia Danks.

A non-profit organization called Michelle's Earth Foundation has been founded in Gardner-Quinn's memory. It is devoted to encouraging young people to become aware and get involved with the environment.

Thousands of college and high school teachers around the country are using This I Believe in their classes. At our Web site, npr.org, you can find a free curriculum guide and materials for organizing community participation.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

NEARY: Next week on npr.org, a This I Believe essay from listener Lisa Sanden(ph) on her belief that she is more than her body. This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Allison, Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

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