Claire Vlases ’25: Setting a landmark precedent

Claire Vlases ’25 in court.

Photo by Robin Loznak/Courtesy of Our Children's Trust

Claire Vlases ’25 made a powerful impact on her hometown of Bozeman, Montana when she was in high school, galvanizing her community to install solar panels on the roofs of local schools and helping to shape the city’s Climate Plan.

Her motivation: She loves her state.

Claire atop a mountain in her home state, Montana.

Claire Vlases '25 enjoying one of her happy places, Glacier National Park in Montana.

“I grew up on a small farm in Montana and so I care about the land and want to do things to make sure that people and places are protected,” said Vlases, a junior majoring in Computer Science and Ethics. “I wouldn’t call myself an environmental activist. I’m just someone who cares a lot about my farm and the mountains that surround my town and my state.”

Her efforts, fueled by youthful verve, were not without frustrating challenges, such as authoring climate legislation that ultimately did not go her way. But she persevered. When Vlases was invited in 2020 to join a landmark lawsuit, Held v. Montana, with 15 other young Montana plaintiffs, she seized the opportunity to “ensure a safe environment for everybody.”

Not yet of voting age when she joined the suit, Vlases was motivated in part to harness the power of the judicial branch. “There are three branches of government, and I didn’t feel represented in at least one of them. And so, I figured there are different means of creating change, even when you can’t vote. I think it’s important to be proactive and make the most of our government system.” 

Montana’s Constitution reads, “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” Held v. Montana argued that the state violated the Constitution by approving fossil fuel development and worsening climate change. Vlases was among the plaintiffs who took the stand in June 2023, testifying that the effects of wildfire smoke she and others experienced were like a “dystopian horror film,” except that “it’s real life. … that’s what us kids have to deal with.”

Drawn to CMC for its commitment to viewpoint diversity—"I always learn so much in my classes from people thinking about things differently. It’s a huge value of mine.”—the College’s mission to prepare students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions also resonates with her. Vlases plans to use her computer science and coding background and education “to do real good” in society. To not just think about the best intentions and solutions, but act on them through policy or systemic change.

“I think responsible leadership is really in line with how I live my life,” she said. “When I think about other educational institutions, they’re focused on learning and bringing light to the world—and I agree with those ideas, too. But CMC’s mission stands out to me. Responsible leadership is something we are taught here, and I see it in my friends. I see it in myself and my professors.”

Claire on her family's farm.

Photo courtesy of Claire Vlases '25

As she simultaneously pursues an Ethics sequence at CMC, Vlases has the rare opportunity to apply what she is learning on a worldwide scale. She recently shared her “big picture” views on climate at high-profile events such as the UN-USA 2024 Global Engagement summit in New York, where she was the closing plenary speaker. Following her work with the Montana lawsuit, Vlases also accepted TIME Magazine’s Earth Award on behalf of her fellow plaintiffs at a ceremony, saying, “to those who are tirelessly advocating for a safer future, this award is validation. Our voices matter, our passions and actions result in justice.”

While she’s enjoying her time in the spotlight, she is more than content being a college student at CMC by taking advantage of opportunities such as a study abroad semester in New Zealand through the College’s Center for Global Education. Her heart also remains firmly planted in Montana.

Perhaps nothing better symbolizes how much Vlases loves her home state than her 2023 Gould Creative Works Fellowship project. She compiled a comprehensive field manual, Stopping to Smell Montana’s Wildflowers, sharing that she wants everyone to appreciate “the natural beauty of Western Montana and hopefully inspire conservation efforts.

“I want everyone to take time to smell the roses.”

Anne Bergman


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