It’s Monday, July 8, and valedictorians are using their commencement speeches to fight climate change.

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Over the last two months, more than 300 college and high school valedictorians have delivered graduation speeches urging their peers and teachers to pressure 2020 presidential candidates to address the climate crisis. It’s not a coincidence; these messages were part of a coordinated effort on behalf of the “Class of 0000” — a grassroots, youth-led movement whose mission is to use graduation speeches as a nationwide platform to highlight the looming threat of human-caused climate catastrophe.

Calling for politicians to commit to “zero emissions” with “zero excuses,” the Class of 0000 project provided valedictorians and student graduation speakers with a standard speech demanding immediate action to end the fossil fuel energy system.

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“Our diplomas may say Class of 2019, but marked in history, we are the Class of Zero. Zero emissions. Zero excuses. Zero time to waste,” the template speech reads, in part. “And in unity, we’re giving 2020 political candidates a choice: Have a plan to get to zero emissions — or get zero of our votes.”

High school graduates may be young, but their vote matters: Many will be among the tens of millions of potential first-time voters in the 2020 presidential election. The “Class of 0000” website encourages students to engage in activism beyond speeches, including by registering to vote.

Rebecca Tone, the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey, said her speech received both positive and negative feedback. But those naysayers might’ve lit her fire even more, she tells the Associated Press. After all, “if you’re just talking to people that agree with you then that’s great, but how much is going to get done?”

Paola Rosa-Aquino

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The Smog

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Molly Enking

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