SAINT VINCENT COLLEGE
DECEMBER COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
11 a.m. Saturday, December 17, 2016
I have a confession. I hate public speaking. I really do… which leads me to wonder, why am I here…not in the existential way…although that’s crossing my mind right now, but more in the reality way. Frankly, I’d much rather be at home, exercising (and I hate to exercise).
The only thing I can figure out is that Br. Norman asked me to do it … and you know, the force is great in this one…
Actually, when Br. Norman called, I tried to tell him that I didn’t really like public speaking,
…and did he know that I wasn’t a graduate of Saint Vincent
…and that I was kind of liberal
…and (pulling out the big excuse here)… I wasn’t even Catholic. I’m Presbyterian!
He calmly told me that yes he knew all of that and that he would pray for me…that’s pulling out the ultimate force…
Imagine what would have happened if Archabbot Douglas had called.
So, a commencement speech. The first thing I did was to go to Wikipedia. This is what comes up.
That was intimidating. All the great speeches by all the great men and women were there for me to peruse. I was getting a bit overwhelmed when I remembered Fred Rogers’ admonition to just “Be your honest self.” So that’s what you’re getting. A few personal stories and a few hopes for your future.
The other thing that I did was hit the image button at the top of the Google search page and this is what I got.
It seems commencement has a lot to do with these funny hats and robes…feel free to throw yours in the air… obviously that’s the point of commencement …
Well, none of that was working, so I’m back to my roots. I am the director of the Children’s Museum and I decided to make this presentation a little interactive...so bear with me.
Some of you already filled out index cards when you came into the building and I thank you.
Graduates, your index cards are at your seats.
I’d like you to write three words that describe what you want for your future.
Pass them to the end of the aisles and we’ll collect them.
So here are my three words:
Let’s start with Work.
My parents worked. My mom retired four years ago at the age of 88 from her secretarial job when her employer died. That’s a long career, and if you’d like to hear about it, she’s in the audience today.
My dad was a steel worker and to put us through college he took second jobs driving school buses, mowing lawns and restoring 1965 Mustang convertibles. He really knew how to work.
I went to college to become a journalist. My first semester, I had an existential crisis. I remember calling my Dad and saying what I really wanted to do was major in art. His response was so Al Werner. He said … go for it … Do something you love but work hard at it.
He also mentioned that I knew how to live on nothing and still have a good life because as a family we had done just that. The money was never the important part. Having a fruitful life was the objective.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic there is a story about the filmmaker Werner Herzog’s response to a young filmmaker who was complaining about the fact that his films were not getting funding or an audience. His response was basically “quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist. Nobody wants to hear it. Stop whining and get back to work.”
I love this story because I think it’s a mighty act of human love to remind somebody that they can accomplish things and that they are not as weak and hobbled as they may believe.
It’s amazing what you can do if you work at something. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about how the Beatles became the Beatles because they worked at it. Sure they were creative and their timing was impeccable but they also practiced and played and wrote constantly. Gladwell’s theory is that it takes at least 10,000 hours of work before you get good at anything.
That means that you really have to love the work enough to get through all the stages … the good, the bad, the boring and the just plain ugly.
So don’t give up.
Your first couple of months, maybe years, will at times be frustrating and confusing.
Learn all you can from the people you encounter.
Find a mentor. People are a much better source of knowledge than the internet.
Be patient. Remember it takes 10,000 hours to get good at anything.
Take on things you don’t know how to do to get better at the things you do know how to do.
Work diligently and remember to be kind to the people you encounter through your work.
Which brings me to my next word…
Right after I graduated from college, I did what any good art student at the time did. I put a pack on my back and took off for Europe for the summer. I had worked as a waitress throughout college and scrimped and saved and took all of my graduation money to go on this grand adventure.
I remember my parents being encouraging but also scared to death. Even I was thinking what the heck am I doing as I walked across the parking lots at JFK. I had only flown one other time.
It ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I was meeting two friends, one in London and one in Paris, but for part of the trip I was traveling alone. I learned a lot of things during that time.
I learned if I could figure out the Italian train schedule, I could figure out anything …
I learned that I could sleep sitting up on a train …
I learned to eat gelato and drink wine …
I learned that a smile, an attempt at a language that is not your own and a few gestures could get you through any situation …
I learned that strangers who spoke different languages and dressed differently than me, and worshipped in a different way than I did were lovely and kind and wanted the same things that we all want … peace and love.
And most importantly, I learned about kindness.
Fast forward 30 years to another trip. This time a business trip.
I was in New York meeting the founder of Kickstarter for dinner in Manhattan. I had only met with Yancey on two other occasions but somehow we hit it off. He asked me to dinner with his fiancée.
I was in meetings all day and I was feeling a bit out of sorts. I did something I never do, I took an antihistamine. It was a mistake. By the time I got to the restaurant, I was feeling very ill. They both took one look at me, got me some water and put me in an Uber to my hotel.
I don’t remember a lot about the ride in the Uber except the driver was Muslim, very kind and didn’t speak much English. He took me back to my hotel, made sure I got in the door, took me up to the front desk and told the concierge about my plight. The concierge, who again did not look like me, made sure I got to my room and had everything I needed.
I recovered enough to get home the next day and by the following week, my husband and I were on a three-week road trip across America. In North Dakota I had a relapse and Bob took me to an emergency room in Fargo.
The emergency doctor looked just like me. Tall, blond, European heritage. He was very kind and took care of me, just like the men in New York. Three very different people, living in very different places in the United States but the thing that struck me was not their differences, but their kindness.
It’s important to recognize and promote kindness more than ever. We need to listen to each other in kindness, respond in kindness and act in kindness.
Be kind to the earth.
Be kind to yourself.
Be kind to one another.
Always be kind.
I often hear my arts colleagues talking about the lack of funding, lack of audience, lack of support, lack of everything and it always makes me uncomfortable. I think it’s the wrong approach.
If we thought of what we do have and all the good it could do for the world, we would be much further along in meeting our mission in the arts.
In fact, I think it translates to all aspects of life. Look at what you do have, be grateful and figure out how it can help others.
It’s also key in being a “glass half full type of person” and recent studies show that an optimistic person lives longer and is healthier.
So I wish you an abundance of optimism.
I wish you an abundance of health, both physical and mental. We all know how important eating right and exercising are for us and going to seek help when we’re physically sick but somehow we gloss over mental health.
If you feel you need mental health care, please get it. We want a healthy you here for as long as we have you to do the things that are important to you. We all need help at different times of life, so seek out those caring professionals who can help.
I wish you an abundance of joy.
I’m lucky. I work in a place where joy is evident every day. You just have to watch a three-year old paint to understand the sheer joy of making a mark. It comes naturally. Joy also comes naturally to the grandparent who is painting alongside them. It comes naturally to both. Always recognize those moments.
There will be big moments of joy that you will remember forever … this may be one of them, or maybe when you marry, or maybe when you meet your children for the first time or maybe when you get your dream job.
But be on alert for those little moments too. The joy of a hammock, the joy of finishing a plumbing project, the joy of holding a baby, the joy of just being with friends, the joy of eating gelato, the joy of helping others. Those are just as important because those moments make up the majority of your life.
I wish you an abundance of curiosity.
I wish you an abundance of love.
And finally, I wish you an abundance of peace.
So those are my three words
And now here are yours:
All of these are great words for your future.
Now we just have to use the force of good in all of us to make the world better by working hard, being kind and seeing with abundance.
I always end my speeches with a quote from Fred Rogers. I seem to find one for every occasion and this is one that seems especially written for today:
You’ll be the one to decide your next steps… and the next steps won’t all be easy – not by any means – but if they’re honest, they’ll be worth the try.
Any real work has its tough times, and any real love has its trials.
I wish you the kind of life’s work in which you can use the greatest part of who you are; and I wish you the kind of life’s love that will enhance all that you do, as well as all that you are.