commencement address

May 28th, 2015


Two mornings ago, dropping my daughter off at the curb, her mind a muddle of wind and worry with the end of the school year, I turned on the radio for the ride home.

A set of triplets has been admitted to MIT, where the admission rate is less than eight percent.

It’s the time of year the waves seem flooded with this kind of triple-rainbow success story, however rare it occurs in real life. The lower the odds, the more is made of it. I remember this one because of what came after it.

Twenty-four dead in floods and 13 in a tornado, including an infant sucked by the storm out of its mother’s arms.

And I am overcome by the cruel arrangement of high and low, the valedictorians and the victims, among them four vacationing children flung from a floating house into the tidal surge of a timid river, now but a whisper on the lips of a radio news reader.

My daughter tells me she is anxious these days, and I can see why. She has been wrestling with questions that have no answers. Where is the right place, the right way, the right time, the right choice, where should I go, who should I be, what can I do, what do I want. Some would say her thinking is precocious; some would call it a curse. I cannot save her from these waters. She has to swim across, and I have to watch and wave. The wind drowns out any instructions I shout from the shore.

They made incredible sacrifices growing up by taking the most difficult courses, their father said.

And I wonder when it all became so difficult. The river so high, the odds so low, the rain, the wind, the storm that twists a mother’s entire life right out of the baby carrier on her chest.

There is no higher ground, people. No safety, no shield, no fix for the fix we’re in. I can’t say more without getting carried away. Watch the news for yourself, if you can bear it. Love everything and let go.

One will be speaking at commencement and her message for other students is simple: Just relax, have fun and do what you love.



  1. maezen,

    so true, so heart-wrenching. my own daughter is facing difficult choices, unexpected changes in direction, and i want to shout out from the shore, but the distance is so far, and do i really have much to offer? relax, have fun, do what you love. AND: i’ll be here for you. there’s no fix for the fix we’re in, except loving-kindness.


    Comment by Bob — May 28, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

  2. Thank you Bob for visiting again.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 28, 2015 @ 9:12 pm

  3. You took these words right out of my head. My twins just turned 16 and we are beginning the process of them making big decisions and leaving the nest in just two short years. As I listen to world news, I feel hopeless about the state of the world and what id has in store for them. How does one stay hopeful?

    Comment by Trish — May 29, 2015 @ 6:36 am

  4. The best hope is having no hope – which is not the state of despair, but complete openness to everything.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 29, 2015 @ 9:34 am

  5. Thank you Maezen,
    No fix. My sons, 20&28;grown men/still babies. Standing on the shore seems more challenging the older they get. The more I can let things be instead of trying to fix, all in the name of “I just wanted to help”, defining a situation/place into a container, more possibility for bearing witness. I rarely intentionally watch the news and yet, it seeps in through social media/hard to escape. I marvel at the newscaster’s ability to go from joy and hope to death and disaster all in one sound bite. It seems the only way/the best way to bear this life is, to simply include everything. It’s all one great big recipe.
    deep bow

    Comment by Mary Sherman — May 29, 2015 @ 7:39 am

  6. You know, todays society tries to make us believe that if we lean in, give it that little bit of extra etc. then we will be good, succesful etc. It can turn you into a control freak.
    Our daughter skipped a class in school, we didn’t make a big deal out of it, but we were kind of proud. And then I spoke to friends whose daughter skipped two classes. There are so many areas in life to be good at and to enjoy (not neccesarily the same thing) my daughter prefers walking the dog and climbing trees over school.
    Our mistake is not seeing that “The Best” need to stand on top of other peoples achievements in order to be that. To be first, there has to be a second. Without that contrast it becomes meaningless.

    Comment by Simone — May 29, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

  7. Exquisite insight into compassion, thank you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 29, 2015 @ 3:02 pm

  8. Beautiful message, Maezen. Makes me take a deep breath in …. and a long exhale oooooouuuut….

    Thank you, as always.

    Comment by Clare — May 30, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

  9. Oh, but your words so often make me weep. You cut to the heart of those feelings we all share,
    thank you,


    Comment by Jude Smith — June 1, 2015 @ 9:30 am

  10. Thank goodness for you, and for these words, read just now while feeling rather overwhelmed by it all myself.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — June 1, 2015 @ 11:55 am

  11. Nice post.

    My daughter, 8 years old, talks about what she wants to be when she grows up. I, 45 years old, respond that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. She rolls her eyes and sighs in impatience and exasperation with me.

    When I see her anxiety, like so much of her behaviour, I see a twisted mirror of myself. I try to be compassionate with her but most of all with myself.

    Life is hard but also wonderful. Sometimes one after the other, sometimes at the same time.
    Thanks as ever,

    Comment by Paul Brennan — June 2, 2015 @ 4:06 am

  12. The 15 year makes decisions that cut short so much opportunity…my job? To be here.

    Here is painful. Trying to remember the times the toddler fell down and I was silent watching while they stood again and continued on without any fanfare. So much harder when the falling down is at this stage.

    All those headlines, superstars for comparison, just like being in the playpark all those years ago: nothing changes even though everything does. Happy for others success.

    Hoping mine remembers how to stand up again. And, that I might live to see it. (because the watching is killing me)

    Comment by MJ — June 3, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

  13. MJ: You are reading my mind. xo

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 3, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

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