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Clean water activist named St. Olaf Commencement speaker

By David Gonnerman '90
March 13, 2008

St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson '74 has announced that clean water activist Susan Seacrest '75, a recipient of last year's Heinz Award for the Environment, will be this year's Commencement speaker. The Nebraska native will deliver her address May 25.

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Groundwater Action, founded by Susan Seacrest '75, has grown to serve hundreds of communities across more than 40 states.
In 2007 Seacrest was one of six people to share the $1.25 million Heinz Award -- one of the largest individual achievement prizes in the world. In granting the award the Heinz Family Foundation called her "engaging, creative, collaborative and, perhaps most of all, persistent," and referred to her effective advocacy for "protecting the health of our fragile aquifers."

"She is a thoughtful and effective educator and advocate for causes that align beautifully with St. Olaf's mission and values," Anderson says.

Seacrest's path to activism began in 1984, when she read an article that noted a possible connection between high leukemia incidence rates and pesticides and nitrates in Nebraska's Central Platte River Basin. She had recently been through a four-year struggle with the poor health of her newborn son, and Seacrest "needed somewhere to put all the anguish I'd been through," she recently told St. Olaf Magazine (read more about Seacrest in the article "Groundwater Guardian"). "So I started studying groundwater." (Her son, one of three children, is now grown and healthy.)

Just one year later, in 1985, Seacrest -- who as director of the National Arbor Day Foundation already knew the power of organizations -- founded the Groundwater Foundation. The organization strives to make groundwater science accessible and understandable, and with its grassroots energy the foundation has grown to become active in protecting local groundwater supplies across more than 40 states.

"We look forward to her remarks," Anderson says.

Other St. Olaf Commencement speakers over the past few years have included New York Fire Captain Brenda Berkman '73, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gretchen Morgenson '76, former Federal Reserve Board member Mark Olson '65 and Nobel Laureate Peter Agre.

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or gonnermd@stolaf.edu.