It's a great honor for me to be the third member of
my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this
great university. It's an honor to follow my great
Uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle
Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them
could have told you something important about their
professions, about medicine or commerce. I have no
specialized field of interest or expertise, which
puts me at a disadvantage talking to you today. I'm a
novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is
all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life
and your work. The second is only part of the first.
Don't ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator
Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for
re-election because he had been diagnosed with cancer:
"No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had
spentmore time at the office."
Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a
postcard last year: "If you win the rat race,
you'restill a rat."
Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down
in the driveway of the Dakota: "Life is what happens
while you are busy making other plans."
You will walk out of here this afternoon with only
one thing that no one lse has. There will be hundreds
of people out there with your same degree; there will
be thousands of people doing what you want to do fora
But you will be the only person alive who has sole
custody of your particular life. Your entire life. Not
just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in
a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your
mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your
bankaccount but your soul.
People don't talk about the soul very much anymore.
It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a
spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter
night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or
when you've gotten back the test results and
they'renot so good.
Here is my resume:
I am a good mother to three children.
I have tried never to let my profession stand in
theway of being a good parent.
I no longer consider myself the center of the
I show up.
I try to laugh.
I am a good friend to my husband.
I have tried to make marriage vows mean what theysay.
I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me.
Without them, there would be nothing to say to you
today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I
call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch.
I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if
those other things were not true. You cannot be really
first rate at your work if your work is all you are.
So here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a
life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next
promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do
you think you'd care so very much about those things
if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a
lumpin your breast?
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt
water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights,
a life in which you stop and watch how a red tailed
hawk circles over the water or the way a baby scowls
with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio
with her thumb and first finger.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you
love, and who loveyou.
And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.
Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Get
a life in which you are generous.
And realize that life is the best thing ever, and
that you have no business taking it for granted. Care
so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread
it around. Take money you would have spent on beers
and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be
abig brother or sister.
All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good
too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so
easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, our
minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color
of our kids' eyes , the way the melody in a symphony
rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is
so easy to exist instead of to live.
I learned to live many years ago. Something really,
really bad happened to me, something that changed my
life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would
never have been changed at all. And what I learned
from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson
of all. I learned to love the journey, not the
I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that
today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look
at all the good in the world and try to give some of
it back because I believed in it, completely and
utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by
tellingothers what I had learned.
By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the
field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the
backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy.
And think of life as a terminal illness, because if
you do, you will live it with joy and passion as
itought to be lived.
~A commencement speech made by Anna Quindlenat
Villanova University~ via Beth Sent by my friend Madhury Roy.