A month ago, I graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. It still seems somewhat surreal, and I’m working out the kinks of adjusting to a life without the idea of school deadlines looming. In addition to my personal writing pursuits and running workshops at The Storied Imaginarium, I will also be teaching a couple of English classes at Pikes Peak Community College. And, just to stay on top of my own goals of being a life-long learner, I will be taking Advanced Creative Writing with Richard Thomas. It’s going to be a busy Fall!
Commencement Speech (Stonecoast, Popular Fiction, S’18)
Just as I expect was the case with many of you here today, I discovered the magic of books at young age and by the time I hit grade school, I realized I could not only read other people’s stories, but that I could write my own. Although the map of my life reveals haphazard progress hindered by numerous wrong turns, dead ends, and detours, my desire to write never waned. When I received my acceptance to the creative writing program at Stonecoast, I thought my path had finally straightened out. I could clearly see my destination, and I thought there was nothing that could slow me down. I was wrong.
Three weeks before my first residency, I was speeding down a hill when the front tire of my bike caught gravel. When I fully regained consciousness 18 hours later, I slowly began to process the damage. The trauma doctors had done their best to put me back together, but I was never going to look the same as I had before the accident. Worse, the traumatic brain injury meant I’d never think the same either. The first flower arrangement to show up in my hospital room was from Stonecoast, which added to my determination to be a part of this community despite my injuries. I received the offer to wait, to push my start date back, but I was terrified that if I didn’t press forward, the opportunity would slip through my fingers. I stuck to the plan, and limped onto a plane with a bag full of medications two weeks after being released from the hospital. This was not my best idea.
There’s a saying that first impressions are everything. So I knew I was in trouble when Robin and Justin staged an intervention in the middle of my first residency. I was a walking physical and emotional disaster. I tried to persevere, without the greatest success. Intervention, remember? Those of you graduating tonight are the last class to remember my disastrous first residency. You are also the ones who helped me to continue forward to this moment.
Although it has been a difficult two years, it’s been rewarding also—in ways I never would have expected. I still suffer from chronic pain and impaired cognition, but upon reflection I think the accident served to make me a better writer; it definitely made me a better person. All of my protective shields were shattered, my pride and arrogance stripped away. Without this having happened, I might not have been in the position to learn the lessons Stonecoast has to offer. For instance, I learned that you can be self-reliant, yet still be able to ask for help when you need it. I learned that you can be an outsider yet still belong to this vibrant community of writers and mentors. And above all, I learned that earning my MFA is just one of the signposts along the ever-evolving journey in becoming a writer.
I urge you all to keep moving despite the obstacles that will invariably come your way. Slow down. Take advantage of unexpected side trips. Explore the roads off the beaten path. And remember to stay connected to the Stonecoast community: if you reach out and stay involved, your time here will never come to an end. There’s a quote by E. L. Doctorow that kept me moving forward even in the darkest times, and I’d like to share it with you now: “[Writing is] like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Even though we are all travelling in different directions, I will keep my eyes open in hopes our paths will cross again soon. I know from experience, my life will be better for it. Thank you.