by Siya Patel, Features Editor
photos contributed by Michael Kozuch
On April 18, thousands went on Facebook to celebrate Earth Day Boston. The annual in-person event was planned to be a large public gathering, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but the COVID-19 outbreak mandated a change of plans. South sustainability teacher Michael Kozuch, lead organizer and board president of the event, and his team, composed largely of students and young people, worked to bring the event entirely online. Still, they saw over 4,000 attendees.
“I was impressed with the diversity of speakers, participants and performers,” Thompson said. “I loved that they had people of so many different races, religions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds,” sustainability teacher Andrew Thompson said that Earth Day was unique this year.
Students taking the sustainability senior elective had a chance to work as interns alongside Kozuch to help plan the event. Senior Simone Klein, one such student, said this was an inspiring experience because meeting professionals while planning the event made her realize she can apply this passion in the future.
“I got to meet some really cool people that I never would’ve been able to before because they’re working professionals in Boston. I really appreciated that and learned this doesn’t end here — activism doesn’t have to only be a big part of your life when you’re a student,” she said.
Other sustainability students completed Earth Day projects: In their class, seniors Nick Wilson-Thayer and Michael Bagdasarian wrote and produced an Earth Day song, titled “False Notion,” for their final project.
“Most of the songs that I make are just goofing around or stuff in my personal life,” Bagdasarian said. “It’s cool to make songs with a message that can hopefully resonate with people about big issues that we’re dealing with.”
Senior Sam Shaevel said she was happy to contribute by spreading the message of the upcoming event, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My friend Simone and I went around Newton and would chalk around elementary schools or in Newton Center. We made a video of that, and Mr. Kozuch put it on the Facebook page, which also got people involved,” she said.
Sustainability student and senior Claire Olson said she appreciated that the event allowed everyone to contribute in their own way.
“You would see people posting photos of hiking trips they had been on, companies putting on their virtual celebrations and kids doing chalk art or people making cards for the Earth,” she said. “People are still finding ways to celebrate things that are important to them, and they’re still finding ways to fight climate change and make the movement known, which was cool and inspirational to see.”
Kozuch said that working closely with his students was a uniquely rewarding experience.
“The students were amazing and it was their energy that carried me through this whole process. I was doing it for them, and they kept pushing me to keep going,” he said. “It was a pleasure to work with them and to see their energy, passion and understanding of why we need to take action on this issue.”
Despite the forced move online, Olson said she’s glad the virus didn’t preclude the event in its entirety.
“It brought me a lot of joy to see how people were still willing to participate and be engaged with the event even if they couldn’t physically be there,” she said. “It was great to see people still really driven in the same way that I was to figure out a way that we could still have this event.”
Though the abrupt switch from a public to a virtual event forced Kozuch and his students to act quickly, after much hard work from students, teachers and organizations, the virtual event was ready for the public.
Thompson said his favorite moment of the event was hearing Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu’s message, to which he could personally relate.
“What she was saying was powerful, about how exciting the movement and the people involved in it are, and the efforts that the city, state and federal governments need to make,” he said. “As an Asian American woman, her position and her message were important to me at a time when there are many Asian Americans who have been having to face outrageous, racist attacks, including in our school.”
Kozuch said hearing about the event’s impact on children was a highlight.
“One of the emails that made me so happy was when someone sent me a message back saying how much they enjoyed the event and that their little kids were dancing while they were listening,” he said. “That just warmed my heart because right now there are so many things that are disappointing and not going right. We’re in this crisis and if we could bring a little joy to people, that was great.”
Freshman Orly Shiner said although she wasn’t able to be a part of the virtual Earth Day celebration, she believes it’s an important day to remind ourselves and be aware of what’s happening on our earth.
“I personally think it’s not celebrated properly most years and a lot of people just post random pictures, but most people don’t really take action and do anything,” she said. “[Earth Day] is important as a wake-up call to the crisis that is at hand. Even if someone doesn’t join a movement, at least it’s a day to acknowledge and just be mindful of what’s here and what might not be due to the climate crisis.”
Wilson-Thayer said he was impressed by Kozuch’s dedication to the event.
“There was so much work going on behind the scenes,” he said. “He put together an awesome event, and it took a lot of work. Mr. Kozuch was up for it, and he crushed it.”
Kozuch said he hopes assisting with and participating in Earth Day Boston has empowered his students to enact change.
“Students should know that their activism on the climate strikes back in September and other events, their voices matter, they are pushing the adults to take action, and they should continue to raise their voices because people are hearing them,” he said. “Just like what happened in the 1960s and ‘70s, the first Earth Day was put together primarily by college students and young people. We can use this period as a way for young people to have their voices heard and to create the world that they want to live in.”