The following is my speech from the 2011 Antioch University Los Angeles Commencement Ceremony. I spoke on behalf of the MFA graduating class on Sunday, June 26, 2011, Royce Hall, UCLA. At Antioch, there is no valedictorian. The university takes the democratic approach to education. Students submit speeches they desire to give and all are considered. I was particularly honored to be selected among such a talented group of writers I admire and look up to, my peers, the Carnelian Cohort.
“It is with humbled honor that I may say a few words to you, our supportive friends, family, significant others and mentors on behalf of the 2011 Master of Fine Arts in creative writing graduating class. For it is with your unconditional love, support and guidance that we continue on our journey of making change in the world.
We need not look far to engage the world and challenge existing standards. Sometimes it begins within our families or in conversations at the water cooler, but intolerance is everywhere. And with our eyes wide open, pen in hand, we have the ability to confront injustice, expose it, translate it, break it down into digestible jagged pieces, truth is exposed for all to see.
As writers, our strength lies within the written word. Governments, including our own, have recognized and feared those words. Authors have been censored, imprisoned, and exterminated for their reporting, satirizing and just plain truth telling. Others have served as ambassadors and diplomats. But writers are visionaries with the ability to see unthinkable futures and improbable pasts; imagined conversations and poetry you can taste.
In our Carnelian cohort, we’ve found friends who have inspired us, challenged us, and motivated us when we felt overwhelmed, lost, and fading into the doldrums of language. A low residency program can be lonely. Thank the gods for social networking sites, and the ability to be present for each other, virtually and honestly. But writing is a solitary experience. And we’ve realized that once we graduate, our new writing schedules must be maintained. The momentum cannot be lost. And the value of creating a writing community will be essential, as former MFA graduates have demonstrated.
Thinking outside the box is an ongoing challenge, not only for those who don’t fit inside it in the first place, but also for those who are intimidated by stepping outside of it. At Antioch, we’ve learned not only to dismantle that box, but to blow it to pieces. We’ve learned that the only real limitations are the ones we’ve chosen for ourselves, or have allowed others to place upon us. Learning to recognize those barriers is liberating, and through this program and the challenges set upon us, we learned to persevere, trudge forward and believe we can do it.
The beauty and power of language, helping others see through allegory, metaphor, simile; the impact of a subtle narrative that reveals itself slowly, meticulously. The brilliance of flash fiction, the perfectly placed words that seem so effortless but took days, weeks and months to get just right.
Antioch teaches us to push the boundaries of art and literature, to push beyond our comfort zones and dare to explore the darker, deeper and mysterious recesses of our imagination, or in some cases, the simple truth of our lives.
We leave here today with newly acquired skills, habits and goals for our writing future. We are the poets, the writers of fiction and nonfiction; the storytellers, dreamers and the prophets looking into the future and remembering the past. Two years of our lives and thousands of words have brought us to this point of departure.
Carnelians, this is our denouement in the program but it’s just the beginning of our careers as Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing. Congratulations to each one of us. Now, let us go forward, and write.”