The CEO of America's largest and most profitable company is invited to be the commencement speaker at one of the country's oldest technological universities — you would think everyone would be pumped!

But no, the students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute responded to the secret deal to bring the head of WPI mega-donor Exxon Mobile to campus by launching a protest. Improbably, they won. Now, on the same day that Exxon Chief "Rex" Tillerson comes to their school, students will be allowed to hear an alternate address by Big Oil arch-nemesis Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

It must chap Rex's tan Texas hide to have to set foot on the same stage as Heinberg, who will tell anyone who listens that the end of the age of cheap oil is here and that companies like Exxon, through climate change and peak oil denial, are the latter-day equivalent of Neville Chamberlain.

Only instead of the Germans coming, it's the end of our way of life as we know it. That's the message Heinberg will deliver to the WPI class of 2011, and they invited him, so apparently they're ready to hear it. Maybe some day one of them will help dig us out of this fossil-fuel shaped hole we find ourselves in, and when she's addressing the audience at her Nobel Prize ceremony, she'll say "It all started with a speech by Richard Heinberg…"

Update: This post originally said the school involved was Rennselaer Polytechnic University; It's Worcester. Credit where it's due!

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