University Of California Berkeley Commencement

July 16, 2007
Lee Schellenberger

Over 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 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 degrees in fields ranging from archeology to zoology.

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott gave the commencement address. Lamott encouraged each graduate to find their spirit and their life’s purpose.

“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. 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 said.

She told students to resist pressure to get caught up in the rat race. It is more important for students to find their personal identity than to worry about the world’s expectations, Lamott said. She told the audience about her personal experience striving to be a famous author. She illustrated the disappointment of success with an analogy.

“I was like a greyhound catching the mechanical rabbit she’d been chasing all her life—metal, wrapped up in cloth. It wasn’t alive; it had no spirit. It was fake,” Lamott admitted.

Lamott then took on a more serious tone. She reminded the students of their responsibility to find a purpose, and urged them to make themselves useful by aiding others. She pointed out that there are people everywhere who are poor, depressed, and hopeless, who desperately need these graduates’ help.

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

Lamott summed up her stories of success, failure, and the search for identity with a final piece of encouragement.

“You’ve done an amazing thing. And you are loved,” she said, “It’s what you are made of. And it’s what you’re for. So take care of yourselves; take care of each other.”

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