More than 50 years since Dr. Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, conservationist and UN messenger of peace set off for the jungles of Gombe, in Tanzania, to study chimpanzees, her works continue inspiring generations to make a difference.
Goodall's main message to a large crowd of University of Toronto Mississauga students (UTM) was, it is not too late to save the world.
"Is it too late? I don't think so, but we are getting close," she said, to a capacity filled room, with hundreds of people showing for the event.
Moments before "Reasons for Hope: An Evening with Jane Goodall," got underway, the doctor walked into the university's center for Recreation, Athletics and Wellness to a standing ovation.
Today, Goodall travels more than 300 days a year to spread her message of environmentalism, research and human advocacy.
"Every single one of us makes an impact on this planet every single day," said Goodall.
"Everywhere I go, I seem to find young people who are losing hope, who have become angry or depressed. I think of what the world was like when I was young and what it's like today and the damage we've done," she said.
But despite the harm done, Goodall maintained a sense of optimism. "My greatest hope is to inspire young people to improve the world," she said.
Reflecting on her life's work, Goodall (on a lighter note) frequently acknowledged the role her mother had in shaping her success.
"It all began for me, this journey of my life, when I was very small," said Goodall, remembering a vacation to a country farm that sparked the youngster's love for animals. She recalled hiding in a chicken coop, fascinated by the wonder of how a chicken laid eggs, as her family frantically searched for a missing Jane. When Goodall's mother finally found the little girl, her mother nurtured Jane's curiosity, instead of being mad for wandering off at the time.
"She saw my shining eyes and she told me how a chicken lays its eggs," said Goodall. "Isn't that the making of a little scientist? Asking questions, having patience, never giving up?"
From then on, Goodall said her love of animals and all living things was born and growing up, she was encouraged to read and study as much as possible. Some of her favorite reads, which she still keeps today, are copies of Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle, which she said fueled her desire to travel to Africa to work with animals.
"He (Tarzan), married the Jane!" Goodall joked.
At 23, a school friend invited Goodall to Kenya, after working hard to book passage on a freighter. It was shortly thereafter, she met paleontologist Louis Leakey, who believed the study of apes could provide knowledge about early humans and sent Goodall to Tanzania.
Her early findings, that chimpanzees make and use tools, eat meat and engage in war-like activity, profoundly changed our understanding of what it means to be human. But, she explained, it became equally important for her to leave the jungle to become an activist. In the early 1990's, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada was formed as a result, which built upon the Institute for Wildlife, Research, Education and Conservation that Goodall founded in 1977, in California.
"War is part of heritage," said Goodall. "But so is love, peace and altruism."
One of the ways in which Goodall inspires young people to improve the environment is through her Roots & Shoots program, which encourages youth to get involved in the protection of the environment, as well as to help people and animals. Currently, the program operates in 131 countries and includes more than 16,000 groups, and continues to grow.
"As I began to learn more about the problems of Africa, I'd realized awareness needed to be raised about people, animals and other harms we are inflicting," said Goodall, explaining this notion really struck a chord upon returning to Gombe much later on in her career and realizing the once luscious, vibrant rainforest she inhabited in the 1960's was disappearing before her eyes.
But through the work of some of her initiatives, Goodall reported the trees she once knew so well are returning. However, much more work still needs to be carried out if this disconnect between the human heart and brain we are experiencing is to be fixed, she continued.
"Even the indigenous peoples reflected on how their actions shaped future generations. Today's criteria is often based on ourselves," said Goodall.
To change this way of thinking, she cited three hopes for the future during the discussion. One, as the doctor already mentioned, was to keep on inspiring youth and remind them they can make a difference in the world. The second, as she noted, was the marvel of the human brain and intellect. Lastly, Goodall credited the resilience of nature, topped with the indomitable human spirit.
Afterwards, Goodall stayed for a book signing, where second year biology student Louisse Tolentino said listening to the doctor was "pretty powerful."
"Her (Goodall's) anecdotes about her mom being very supportive are relatable to me because my parents are pushing me to do what I want to do," said Tolentino. "I also really liked the part when she said we should focus on our humanity without forgetting nature."