Author Gives Berkeley Graduates Advice

Emily Villanueva
July 17, 2007

More than 1,700 students graduated from the University of California, Berkeley today. The ceremony was held at Greek Theater on the Berkeley campus, where at least 7,000 spectators came to watch the event, said Berkeley Chancellor Stephanie Martin.

It was the 117th Berkeley commencement. Among the graduating students were 67 Ph. D. candidates and 626 who received master’s degrees. Students received degrees ranging from archaeology to zoology.

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott gave the commencement address. Lamott encouraged students to follow their creative dreams and forget about the expectations and pressures and adult responsibilities. She told them to look past the frenzied job hunt, past the search for a salary, and to just enjoy life. Forget about all this stuff, she urged. Finding a perfect career is not the problem.
“Your problem,” she said, “is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued.”

Words of comfort and inspiration followed, with a message oriented toward the importance of rest and laughter. “Laugh, rest, slow down,” she said. She told them to relish each moment, and reminded them of what they had already accomplished, as opposed to what they will have to face in the future. What you’re looking for is already inside you, she said.

“You don’t know if you’re going to live long enough to slow down, relax and have fun, and discover the truth of your spiritual identity,” said Lamott, “like Breaker Morant said, you have to live everyday as if it’s your last, because one of these days, you’re bound to be right.”

Lamott imparted valuable life lessons to the new graduates, through a speech that was colorful, wise, and witty. It was equal parts hilarious and humbling. She explained that she had dropped out of college to become a writer, through her trademark self-deprecating humor. Before becoming the author of six novels and four best-selling books of nonfiction, she worked a string of low-paying jobs as a Kelly girl, clerk typist, and assistant editor at a magazine.

By the time she started getting published, she had gained everything society had told her she needed, like “stature, the respect of colleagues, maybe even a kind of low-grade fame. The culture says these things will save you, as long as you manage to keep your weight down. But the culture lies,” she said. What would save them is spirit. Lamott said spirit would make them capable of living lives of happiness and meaning.

In the end, Lamott left the graduates with one last, crucial piece of advice: refuse to wear uncomfortable pants.
“Promise me you’ll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve eaten,” she said. “The pants may be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically right now without your pants getting in on the act, too.”

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