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Spring 2002 Commencement
College of Arts and Sciences Commencement Address
May 12, 2002
Thank you so much for this great honor, one that I will cherish forever. This is a very emotional day for me because my mom and dad are gone now and I wish they could be here to see this. What an amazing Mother's Day present this would have been for my mom. See, no matter how old we are we still want to make our parents proud…I used to live for that joy. And the one thing they never got to see was me wearing a cap and gown.
Oh, don't misunderstand, I did graduate high school, but I never was able to attend my graduation because I got a job right out of the box, dancing in summer stock theatre.
But when I came back home I thought it would be a good idea to go to college and further my quest for higher education, so American University was kind enough to accept me with my less than luminous grade point average. I had the best time studying at AU. I was happy. The theatre department was amazing and right here is where I made my dramatic debut in a very serious play called, "The Trial." See, I left here thinking I was going to be a dramatic actress; well I was wrong… life is full of surprises!
We think we are going in one direction and some door opens and reveals that our paths is in the other direction. Life is a lot like Alice in Wonderland, it makes weird twists and turns and it always surprises us along the way.
For instance, I only stayed for one year at AU, not what I planned, because again I was asked to dance at the Texas pavilion at the New York World's Fair. I had to make a decision whether to stay or go. So I went. It was the right decision for me in the end, and that made me very happy. Except when I nearly cart wheeled off of the stage into the bar, but that's another story.
For me, experiencing happiness was the number one most important goal in life. I remember when I was a little girl; grownups would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would always answer, "happy." "Happy?" They would say, "that's all? I mean, what do you want to be when you grow up?" I still said "happy." That hasn't changed… the pursuit of happiness is still, above all my most important intention.
So, on this special day, if I had one gift to give you, all it would be is a life filled with happiness and joy.
Oh, I don't mean that life should always be happy, no… we know that's not possible, but my hope is that you all could cultivate a "Joy Muscle" so you can use it to "Lift You Back To Yourselves" in times of sadness, stress and disappointment. It's not a frivolous thing to aspire to live a joyful life. It takes work… Focus… Intention… And knowing yourself!
A wish to have a happy heart is the beginning. Just to wish.
I know that right now some of your heads are spinning with questions. Big questions like:
Jeez, stop! Our twenties are the years to plant, to nurture yourself in preparation for the future, so when you reach life's inevitable you have the grounding to handle the tasks in front of you.
Think of this time as a ladder of discovery into the truth of your own special being.
These are very important years in your lives. You will change more in the next ten years than you have ever changed before. You will form your habits, hone your perspective, creating the blueprint of whom you are.
As I've said to my own children, "Now is the time for you to go to the college of You."
Find out who you are, what you think, learn to listen to the sounds of your own heart. Please don't pound your head against those imaginary walls in hopes to become something right away…NO, not yet!
Lift your head to the sky and bay at the moon. See the world… keep your mind open to new ideas and adventure out of your circle of expectations, listen to the wisdom of elders and travel to destinations without a map. The people you will meet along the way may thrill you with their precious time and assistance. And perhaps keep a fire under your love of humankind. Who knows... they may lead you to new horizons that will fill you with wonder.
I just discovered that a baby smiles on an average of 72 times a day. Some people wonder where it goes as we grow up… well, it's still there… it lives somewhere near your heart. You just have to wake it up, tickle it now and then to ignite the giggle of well-being.
So, while you are continuing to walk down that sometimes-bumpy road of life, develop the art of laughter and joy. Keep in your backpack of treasures the whole you, the best you. The "you" that won't fear failure, because lessons learned are the only way to grow.
The "you" who won't fear your enemies, because you will have cultivated tolerance and compassion by fearlessly facing your own shortcomings.
And, last, but not least, the "you" who will not fear love, because you have learned to love yourself.
So to sum it all up: Don't spend all of your precious time wondering what you are going to do. Spend some time learning how to BE!
Perhaps by doing that you will help bring more peace to this world, one by one.
And remember, as you surrender to sleep each night, ask yourself that profound question, "How many times did I laugh today?" Blessings to you all, on your beautiful path.
President John F. Kennedy spoke at American University's Spring Commencement on June 10, 1963. In this speech Kennedy called on the Soviet Union to work with the United States to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty and help reduce the considerable international tensions and the specter of nuclear war at that time. (text of speech)
Recent Commencement Speakers