Moving Commencement Ceremony At University Of California Berkeley

Rini Parekh
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 campus. Around 7,000 spectators turned out to watch the event, said 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 in fields ranging from archeology to zoology.

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott gave the commencement address. Lamott encouraged students to “live in the now,” spread kindness, and discover their spiritual identities. She advised them not to be obsessed with becoming successful, to ignore other’s expectations, and to follow their dreams.

“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued,” said Lamott. “ 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 reminded the graduates to take some time to unwind, and to discover their spiritual identities. Life is short and needs to be savored, she said.

She engaged the audience with a self-deprecating humor. She bragged about “being a dropout, and unemployable,” noting the irony that she, a college dropout, was addressing a group of well-educated students. Still, Lamott assured the graduates that success is not measured by fame or money, but personal satisfaction. Without it, she said, success becomes hollow.

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

Lamott concluded with a request that the graduates eschew 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,” she said. “The pants might be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically right now without your pants getting in on the act, too.”

Lamott has authored six novels, as well as four works of non-fiction such as Operating Instructions, which is a personal account of being a single mother. She is praised for writing about difficult subjects such as death, sadness, and other struggles.

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