Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Worth The Read

To those thousands of
managers who work on their workplace relationships
everyday, who try to create a credible connection with
each of their employees and co-workers, you'll
understand this, you'll appreciate it, and it will give
you new resolve to make this day as good as it gets . .

This is the commencement speech by the writer,
Anna Quindlen, to the graduates at Villanova this

It's a great honor for me to be the third
member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate
from this great university. It's an honor to follow my
great Uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my
Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of
them could have told you something important about their
professions, about medicine or commerce.

I have
no specialized field of interest or expertise, which
puts me at a disadvantage talking to you today. I'm a
novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I
know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your
work. The second is only part of the first. Don't ever
forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas
when the senator decided not to run for re-election
because he had been diagnosed with cancer: "No man ever
said on his deathbed, 'I wish I had spent more time at
the office.'" Don't ever forget the words my father sent
me on a postcard last year: "If you win the rat race,
you're still a rat." Or what John Lennon wrote before he
was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: "Life is
what happens while you are busy making other

You will walk out of here this afternoon
with only one thing that no one else has: There will be
hundreds of people out there with your same degree;
there will be thousands of people doing what you want to
do for a living. But you will be the only person alive
who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life.
Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your
life on a bus, or in a car,or at the computer. Not just
the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not
just your bank account but your soul. People don't talk
about the soul very much anymore.
It's so much easier
to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume
is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad,
or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the test
results and they're not so good.

Here is my
I am a good mother to three children. I have
tried never to let my profession stand in the way of
being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the
center of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to
laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to
make marriage vows mean what they say. I am a good
friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them,
there would be nothing to say to you today, because I
would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the
phone, and I meet them for lunch. I would be rotten, or
at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were
not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work
if your work is all you are. So here's what I wanted to
tell you today:

Get a life. A real life, not a
manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger
paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so
very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one
afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a
life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing
itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which
you stop and watch how a red tailed hawk circles over
the water or the way a baby scowl with concentration
when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and
first finger. Get a life in which you are not alone.
Find people you love, and who love you. And remember
that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone.
Send an e-mail. Write a letter.
Get a life in which
you are generous. And realize that life is the best
thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for
granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want
to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on
beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be
a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But
if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be
enough. It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our
hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted
the color of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a
symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises

It is so easy to exist instead of to live.
I learned to live many years ago. Something really,
really bad happened to me, something that changed my
life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never
have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is
what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all: I
learned to love the journey, not the destination. I
learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today
is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all
the good in the world and try to give some of it back
because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I
tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had

By telling them this:
Consider the
lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear.
Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to
be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness,
because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion
as it ought to be lived.