John Francis to speak at SOU

Planetwalker and environmentalist John Francis speaks at SOU

Planetwalker, environmentalist, author, motivational speaker and Southern Oregon University alumnus John Francis will return to SOU on Thursday, Feb. 20, to share what he learned during several years without motorized transportation or verbal communication.

Francis’ lecture will be at 6 p.m. in the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room. The event is free, with a suggested donation of two non-perishable food items. Food donations and a silent auction will support the SOU Student Food Pantry and SOU’s efforts in the Governor’s State Employee Food Drive.

Francis had an epiphany when he witnessed a 1971 oil spill in San Francisco Bay. He felt partially responsible for the spill even as he helped scrub the beaches, birds and sea life, and he made a deeper commitment. He decided to stop using motorized vehicles and walk everywhere he needed to go.

Several months later, frustrated at the outrage that his decision to walk triggered among others, he took a vow of silence.

His non-motorized lifestyle lasted 22 years, and his silence lasted 17. During that time, Francis walked across the United States and South America, and throughout the Caribbean. He earned a bachelor’s degree at SOU (then Southern Oregon State College), a master’s degree in environmental studies at the University of Montana and a doctorate in land resources at the University of Wisconsin.

After Francis began using motorized vehicles again, he started speaking and consulting with a variety of audiences around the world. He helped the travel and tourism industry with environmental issues, served as an ethical advisor to civilian and military humanitarian operations, and encouraged diversity in traditional conservation and environmental organizations.

He spoke at the 2008 TED Conference in Monterey, California, and returned to SOU in 2012 to speak about his experiences and receive the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for the year.

Francis is currently an education fellow with the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., which has published his two books, “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence,” and “The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.”

He is also a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin, where he is a member of the board at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

His lecture this month is sponsored by SOU’s Multicultural Resource Center, Sustainability Council, Black Student Union, Environmental Science and Policy Program, and the School of Business.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer