Rising sophomore defends environment through art
Geneva Boyer's work is winning attention from activists and politicians
Geneva Boyer is a Renaissance woman.
As the rising sophomore mulls declaring a major in business, she spends much of her time drawing portraits and caricatures, dancing, acting and singing opera.
But it's the poetry Boyer writes and performs that has garnered the most attention lately, and has given her an audience with leaders from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), former presidential candidate Al Gore, and activist actors like Robert Redford and Chevy Chase.
Her interest in the environment was piqued during the campaign for the 2000 presidential election when, as a Newton, Mass., fourth-grader, she supported Al Gore.
"After he ‘lost' I realized I was not done fighting," Boyer says. "Just because we had one loss, doesn't mean there wasn't still stuff to fight for."
The nine-year-old environmentalist started lugging around a copy of "50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save the Earth." In high school, she began working with the Newton Environmental Science Program and Green Decade, and penned a children's book, in verse, in which a young boy who wastes water and a group of fish who hold a convention in his living room realize they need to "stop messing up each other's homes."
Soon after arriving at Brandeis in the fall of 2010, Boyer joined Students for Environmental Action, working on sustainable landscaping, and in the spring, became the arts and materials chair for Students for a Just and Stable Future.
She used all her many creative tools in these endeavors, but realized she needed more. She tried to talk her way into Professor Maura Jane Farrelly's already-full course: Advertising and the American Media. Farrelly told her to put her reasons in writing and Boyer wrote a long, persuasive letter.
"I told her I needed to use marketing to help with climate change," Boyer says, summing up her letter: "Basically, 'I need your class to save the world.'"
Typically, Farrelly says, she only relents and admits seniors into the capped course, assuming under-classmen have plenty of time to register for it later. "But Geneva persisted, as is her way."
"What she was looking for was an understanding of what public service advertising is," Farrelly says. "Her conviction is that the reason most people in this country do not care about environmental issues is that they just don't understand."
Boyer got her way, and says the class is the best she's taken at Brandeis to date. Farrelly was not disappointed with her decision either. She recalls a classroom discussion about marketing in public schools, in which a seven or eight students were unconcerned about the effects of companies advertising to cash-strapped school districts. Boyer was the only vocal student to express concern.
"I don't think she felt ganged up on. She expressed a point of view that was very unpopular with the class, and she stuck with it and dug in her heels," Farrelly recalled.
Farrelly didn't realize it at first, but Boyer was a poet too. When the climate action bill failed, Boyer had been inspired to express her frustration and steadfast hope. Her supervisor at the Global Warming Education Network was so enamored with the resulting poem "Climate: I Still Believe," in which she implores people not to give up on the environment despite setbacks, that he asked her to write another for a then-upcoming rally. Then another.
"[The first video] was very well-received," Boyer says of her video performance of the poem, which she later performed in her dorm room and posted to YouTube and Facebook last summer. "There were about 50 comments and everyone was reposting it."
That's when National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Larry Schweiger told her she reminded him of Winston Churchill and when he learned she performed her poetry in public, he messaged her on Facebook. "I have an idea," he wrote.
He eventually suggested she apply to the NWF's Young Leadership Assembly, despite being several years younger than the average participant, and invited her to Power Shift, where Gore, a good friend of Schweiger's, was presenting.
"Before he went on stage, [Schweiger] said, ‘Hey, Al, do you have time for a poem?'" and Boyer performed one for him.
But first Schweiger had invited her to perform her poetry at the Annual Conservation Achievement Awards, where Boyer received a standing ovation from a black-tie crowd of 600 people who had paid $750 a ticket to be there.
"Half the audience was crying," Boyer says. "I grew up as a total theater person and essentially gave that up for activism. It was like coming home. My two worlds could actually combine – the two things I'm most passionate about."