Commencement Speaker Anne Lamott Advises Uc Berkeley Graduates

Rebecca Huberman
July 17

Over 1,700 students graduated from the University of California, Berkeley today. The ceremony was held at the Greek Theater on campus. At least 7,000 spectators came to watch the event, said Berkeley Chancellor Stephanie Martin.
This was the 117th Berkeley commencement. Among the graduating students were 67 Ph.D. candidates. Another 626 received master’s degrees. Students received diplomas in fields ranging from archeology to zoology.

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott gave the commencement address. Lamott encouraged students to not conform to society’s expectations, but to live their lives the way they choose.

“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued,” she told the students. “Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.”

Lamott engaged the audience by pointing out the irony that she, a college dropout, was giving advice to these graduates.

“I bet I’m beginning to make your parents really nervous,” she said. “Here I am sort of bragging about being a dropout, and unemployable, and secretly making a pitch for you to follow your creative dreams, when what they want is for you to do well in your field, make them look good, and maybe also make a tiny fortune.”

She referred to her own experience of wanting to become a successful author. When success finally happened, it was not what she expected. Success rang false. “Fake doesn’t feed anything,” said Lamott. “Only spirit feeds spirit, in the same way only your own blood type can sustain you.”

Lamott urged students to discover their own spiritual identity, though she did acknowledge that it is not easy to find.
“You can close your eyes and feel the divine spark, concentrated in you, like a little Dr. Seuss,” she said. “It flickers with aliveness and relief, like an American in a foreign country who suddenly hears someone speaking English.”

Lamott recommended that the students “laugh, rest, and slow down” to enjoy life and not follow the world’s expectations of them.
“Just be where your butts are, and breathe,” she said. “Refuse to cooperate with anyone who is stealing your freedom, your personal and civil liberties, and then smirking about it.”

She ended the speech on a light note by requesting that the graduates never wear uncomfortable pants.

“Promise me that you’ll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve just eaten,” Lamott 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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