Monday, September 10, 2007

This was a speech made by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Anna

Quindlen at the graduation ceremony of an American university

where she was awarded an Honorary PhD.

"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. You will walk out of here

this afternoon with only one thing that no one else 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 for a living. But you will

be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. 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 bank accounts but also

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 cold comfort on

a winter's night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've

received your test results and they're not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried

never to let my work stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer

consider myself the centre of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to

laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage

vows mean what they say. 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 cut out. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for

lunch. I would be rotten, 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 pay cheque, 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 lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on

a breeze at the seaside, 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 sweet with her thumb and first


Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love

you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the

phone. Send an email. 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 beer and

give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big 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, and 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. I learned to love the journey, not the

destination. 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 telling

others 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 back yard 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 it

ought to be lived".

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