Berkeley Commencement

Dan Darwish
July 16, 2007

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

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

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott gave the commencement address. Lamott described the irony in the fact that a college dropout was giving advice to a graduating audience. In her speech, she asked the graduates to seek their own identities and follow their own paths, regardless of how others perceive them. Lamott also encouraged students to cherish what matters most in life – the beauty of love.

“If you find out next week that you are terminally ill – and we’re all terminally ill on this bus,” Lamott said to the graduates, “all that will matter is memories of beauty, that people loved you, and you loved them, and that you tried to help the poor and innocent.”

Lamott also talked about her personal history. For a time she had jobs purely to pay the bills, she said. Every night, after work, she would come home and write stories. Then finally, she was published. Yet still, even after rising up to success, Lamott was surprised to see that her writing spirit was fake.

“I’d been wanting to be a successful author my whole life. But when I finally did it, I was like a greyhound catching a mechanical rabbit she’d been chasing all her life – metal, wrapped up in cloth. It wasn’t alive; it had no spirit.”

The audience cascaded from laughter to silence throughout the speech. Her simple yet beautiful words filled the Greek Theater with insight and a wide range of emotion. If nothing else, Lamott related the speech definitively commencing the students.

“So from the wise old pinnacle of my 49 years, I want to tell you that what you’re looking for is already inside you,” said Lamott. “You’ve heard this before, but the holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it.”

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