Make Good Commencement Addresses

"Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone wise, and then just behave like they would."

With so many schools reaching the end of term, the Internets are buzzing about this year's best commencement address: Neil Gaiman's to the University of the Arts

It stands out, of course, because most commencement addresses are abominable

I don't remember a single thing about mine — not the speaker, nor anything he or she said. I assume it was boring. I assume it was too long. I assume I used those minutes to daydream about the graduation cake I was going to eat when I got home. (Maureen Johnson wrote a great post about this just today.)

But . . . 

Good ones. They DO exist. And they're always worth revisiting.

My favorite commencement address is J.K. Rowling's to Harvard in 2008 about failure and imagination. (Can you imagine speaking to Harvard about failure? How gutsy!) I still watch it every few months (with a box of tissues), because so much of what she says is worth being reminded of.

This, especially, always resonates:

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default."

I also love Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement from 2005, now something of a classic for bringing back the Whole Earth Catalog's farewell message: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

But I like this part just as much:

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."

If you haven't watched either of those speeches, go forth.

And if you have yet to watch Neil's, go forth again! Zen Pencils made a wonderful comic — "Make Good Art" — from the most quotable bit, but this was also smart stuff:

"When you start out on a career in the arts, you have no idea what you're doing. This is great. People who know what they're doing know the rules, and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not. And you should not . . . If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do. And because nobody has done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone from doing that particular thing again."

I also enjoyed the address This American Life host (and nerdy dreamboat extraordinaire) Ira Glass gave to Goucher College this year. Not as many people are talking about it — that's what happens when you go against Neil Gamain ;-) — but it's both hilarious and poignant:

[NOTE: The sound on that video sucks. But it's worth it.]

A choice quote:

"As your parents catch up to you, don't be a dick."

There's also an anecdote about the time his grandmother met Adolf Hitler. I won't spoil the story itself, but it ends with this thought:

"We lurch forward in our lives. We try this. We try that. We make the best guesses that we can based on what we believe at the time, and it is entirely possible that a Goucher grad — that you or you or you — will get the chance to change the world and kill Adolf Hitler, and you will miss it."

But . . .

"When you get your chance to remake the world, when you get the chance to change everything for yourself and hopefully for others, too — when you get your chance to shoot Adolf Hitler — you will know what to do. That's my wish for you."

In the spirit of this post, I'd like to give a shout-out to my cousin Emma, who just graduated from high school, as well as all of the other recent graduates who happen to be reading this. The post-graduate world? It's AWESOME. I'm so happy for you!

I'll leave you with Neil Gaiman's final words:

"Now go and make interesting mistakes. Make amazing mistakes. Make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art."


Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

"Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what your write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for."

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."

"You fail only if you stop writing."

And . . . my favorite interview with the master:

Thank you for changing the world, Ray. Thank you for seeing it.

* * *

The randomly-drawn winner of my Seize the Story giveaway is "Anna (not of And The French Kiss fame)." HA! How awesome. Check your email, Anna!

More giveaways coming soon.


Giveaway! (Teen Writers Edition)

Today's free giveaway is for the latest edition of Victoria Hanley's Seize the Story (Prufrock Press Inc., 2012). Here is the publisher's description:

Do you wish you had a published writer's secrets at your fingertips, ready to help you achieve your goals of publication, success, and the chance to be the next great teen writer? In Seize the Story: A Handbook for Teens Who Like to Write, Victoria Hanley, award-winning author of young adult fiction, spills the secrets for bringing action, adventure, humor, and drama to stories. All of the elements of fiction, from creating believable dialogue to exciting plots, are laid out clearly and illustrated with examples taken straight from story excerpts by excellent writers. The book is packed with writing exercises designed to encourage teens to tell the stories that are theirs alone.

In addition, other published authors of young adult literature share their insights about the writing life. Teens can gain firsthand advice from accomplished writers T. A. Barron, Joan Bauer, Hilari Bell, Chris Crutcher, David Lubar, Lauren Myracle, Todd Mitchell, Nancy Garden, and many more.

I'm one of the book's featured authors (YAY!), so I received an extra copy that I'd like to pass along. 

To be eligible for this giveaway:

(A) You must be a teenager.
(B) You must be interested in creative writing.

This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment here on this post (on my actual blog, not Goodreads or anywhere else that's being served by a feed) that includes your email address. I'll randomly select a winner in my next post . . . whenever that is. It could be tomorrow, could be in three days, could be in a week. So enter now!

And good luck!

UPDATE: This giveaway has ended. Thank you for the interest!


Let the giveaways begin! (Librarian Edition)

Due to a mix-up, Cricket's shirt is a different color on the audio book. I like it!

I have BOATLOADS of awesome giveaways for you this month. First up! These freebies are specifically for librarians in the United States.

(My apologies, everyone else. Your giveaways are coming soon.)

Would you like an audio edition (CDs) of Anna and the French Kiss AND Lola and the Boy Next Door for your library collection?

To qualify:

(A) You work for a public library in America. Not a school library, sorry.
(B) Your library has an established collection of books-on-CD.
(C) Your library does NOT already own an audio edition of Anna OR Lola.

If you qualify, please leave a comment here on this post (on my actual blog, not Goodreads or anywhere else that's being served by a feed) with the name of your library and your email address. This giveaway is first come/first serve, and winners will receive BOTH of my books on audio for their collection. 

UPDATE: I'm out of audio books. Thank you for the interest!

I also have a few remaining German editions of Anna and the French Kiss. (I gave away the rest to actual Germans and Austrians on Twitter a few months ago. If you like free stuff, and you aren't following me on Twitter, you should probably be following me on Twitter. Just saying.)

If you work in an American library — public, high school, or university — that has a collection of novels in Deutsch, and you're interested in a free copy for your collection, please let me know in the comments and leave your email address.

UPDATE: I'm out of German editions. Thank you for the interest!

Thanks and danke!