Art Works Blog

For Graduation, Wise Words from the Literati

It's that time of year when thousands of newly minted graduates collect their diplomas and throw off their caps and gowns in preparation for What Comes Next. The future looms shiny and bright, and things like work, rent, and bills still seem like proud emblems of adulthood rather than the mundane responsibilities they will soon become. For the rest of us, commencement is a time when we dispense the advice we've haphazardly accumulated through the years in an attempt to make the post-school transition just a little bit easier. But no one can frame advice quite as eloquently as the pros. Below are bits of wisdom taken from various commencement addresses, all of them delivered by writers, poets, and a number of Big Read authors.

"Now, right after graduation today, make a list of the people who don't believe in you. And you have a few, don't you? I had plenty of people who told me not to do what I was going to do. You make a list this afternoon, of the people who don't believe in you, and you call them tonight, and tell them to go to hell!" Ray Bradbury, CalTech 2000 Commencement

"So don’t hold back, don’t punt. DO WHAT YOU LOVE BEST. Make your life doing what you love best, but do is as if it meant you were out to save the world. Because you are. And if you are criticized and not every one agrees with you, say to yourself, I must be doing something original, and if your efforts are rejected, say I will persevere, and if your work fails at first, fail againfail better, until you triumph." Louise Erdrich, Dartmouth College 2009 Commencement

"I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve." —Maya Angelou, University of California, Riverside 1977 Commencement

"If you are wary of assuming responsibilities to which you might feel inadequate, make yourselves adequate." Marilynne Robinson, Holy Cross 2011 Commencement

"[E]very day of your life, every morning of your life, is your birthday. And every day, the world tries to send you a present. A birthday present, sometimes it’s awfully small, sometimes it’s only a sunrise. We would like to leave you today thinking that everything is going to be peachy from now on. You and I both know it won’t always be peachy. It won’t. But, every day of your life, even the bad days, are good days because your being in them makes the world better for us. Every day a small present comes your way." Luis Alberto Urrea, University of Illinois at Chicago 2011 Commencement

"Happiness is completely overrated. There is nothing wrong with some struggle and pain. For a life fully lived, you will have to take risks and suffer. And so what? According to my mother, if nothing hurts, you are dead."  —Isabel Allende, San Domenico School 2010 Commencement

"But when you look at yourself in the mirror, I hope you see yourself. Not one of the myths. Not a failed mana person who can never succeed because success is basically defined as being maleand not a failed goddess, a person desperately trying to hide herself in the dummy Woman, the image of men's desires and fears. I hope you look away from those myths and into your own eyes, and see your own strength. You're going to need it." Ursula Le Guin, Bryn Mawr 1986 Commencement

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment." —Joan Didion, University of California Riverside 1975 Commencement

"What I am really saying to you today is what all teachers say in the classroom: pay attention! But I am asking you to pay attention not always just to what is on the blackboard, but what is out the window. That bird on a wire. That cloud. Pay attention to the natural world. Pay attention to your day dreams. Pay attention to what is on the periphery, for that is where the small wonders often reside. Don’t let the turbulence of public life overwhelm the sanctity of your inner life." Billy Collins, Trinity School 2001 Commencement




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