Anna Quindlen's Villanova Commencement Address:
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 reelection because he'd been diagnosed with cancer: "No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in 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 plans."
You 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 resume.
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 show up. I listen. I try to laugh. 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 show up. I listen. I try to laugh.
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 gap or the way a baby scowls 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.
Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad.
Get a life in which you are generous. Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full
moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no
business taking it for granted.
Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a real life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a
life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings.