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Based on her lauded commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, this stirring essay by bestselling author Ann Patchett offers hope and inspiration for anyone at a crossroads, whether graduating, changing careers, or transitioning from one life stage to another. With wit and candor, Patchett tells her own story of attending college, graduating, and struggling with the inevitable question, What now?
From student to line cook to teacher to waitress and eventually to award-winning author, Patchett's own life has taken many twists and turns that make her exploration genuine and resonant. As Patchett writes, "'What now?' represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life." She highlights the possibilities the unknown offers and reminds us that there is as much joy in the journey as there is in reaching the destination.
would stay there and never have to worry about the future again. Finally I arrived on campus and lugged my suitcases up the stairs of the dreamy little house that was my dorm, put my toothbrush in my assigned toothbrush slot, and unpacked. I knew I wanted to be a writer and so I thought it best to make myself well-rounded, since that’s what a writer had to be. I flipped through the course catalog and tried to choose between marine biology and comparative religion and printmaking and economics and
you once loved. You find yourself thinking, I was kissed in that building, I climbed up that tree. This place hasn’t changed so terribly much, and so by an extension of logic I must not have changed much, either. But I have. That’s why I’m the graduation speaker. Think of me as Darwin sailing home on the Beagle. I went forth in the world just the way you are about to go forth, and I gathered up all the wondrous things I’ve seen; now I’ve brought them back to you. As the graduation speaker I’m
leave this place, as you will in a couple of hours, be sure to come back. Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which, aided by several detours—long hallways and unforeseen stairwells—eventually puts you in the place you are now. Every choice lays down a trail of bread crumbs, so that when you look behind you
likes of Allan Gurganus and Grace Paley and Russell Banks. But with all the important books I’d read and all the essential things I had learned about how to write, I didn’t become a writer until I worked at Friday’s. More specifically, I didn’t learn what I really needed to know until the police came late one afternoon and took away the guy who worked the dishwash station. It turns out that I was the only waitress who was willing to wash dishes, and it was while I washed that I finally learned to
writer. My speech was ponderous and impersonal, full of necessary information. Like all medicine, it was slightly bitter going down, but I was sure it would do this class of graduating seniors a world of good. In the small cusp of time I had between writing the address and delivering it, I was by chance scheduled to give a talk with my favorite former college professor, Allan Gurganus. Much of what I know about writing is something Allan taught me. I admire him both as a novelist and as a person