The Words

☆ November 17, 2015

Slowly but surely, I’m catching up on all the things with which I’ve fallen behind this year (which is everything). Back in May, I got requests to post the written words of my commencement address. Finally, here they are. Please feel free to share, print, re-post, facebook, etc. I’m honored and happy that my words have had an impact on so many. There’s a lot of backstory to the speech itself, which I’ll share in a later post. In the meantime, the words…

.  .  .

I’m going to tell you one of the secrets of life. You can’t avoid pain. You will lose money. Probably more than once. You will lose a loved one. Probably more than once. Your body will fail you, in some way, at some time, possibly more than once. None of us are exempt from the hard times and the heartbreaking times.

Now why would I make such a dour declaration on this day of celebration? Because, when you understand this truth – and accept it – you are immediately granted a very special kind of power, which brings extraordinary freedom. When you stop making decisions based on what you think will keep you free from pain (which is a false assumption to begin with), you start making decisions that are aligned with your unique truth. The hard times will find you whether you follow the rules or you follow your truth. So why not follow your truth?

I realized this a couple of years after I graduated from college. I was in Death Valley, alone, in May. It was 111 degrees, and the only other person I saw was the guy working at the gas station jiffy mart. I had gone to Death Valley because I was in the midst of my quarter life crisis. My health was failing, my finances were failing, and the things I felt like I was “supposed” to be doing weren’t fulfilling to me. And I had a big chip on my shoulder about it. I felt like it was all really unfair. And out there, alone in the desert, I realized this truth, that you can’t avoid pain. And that it’s not necessarily a mark of some kind of failure. It’s just a mark of life. And as I drove back home to San Francisco, I felt OK for the first time in a long time.

While camping in Death Valley, I was eating little more than trail mix, and this helped unlock the mystery of my health crisis – it was celiac disease. Ten years ago, “gluten-free” wasn’t part of the lexicon, and as I healed, I wrote one of the first books on gluten intolerance, the book I wished I’d had to help me. A few days after I signed my first book contract, my apartment building burned down in the middle of the night. Barefoot, out on the sidewalk, my neighbors and I huddled together, watching the flames. Suddenly, I possessed nothing but the few boxes of film negatives I’d grabbed as I ran out. But I held on to that Death Valley truth. And this time, while I certainly felt the shock of another Hard Time, I didn’t take it personally. I moved to a tiny studio and, instead of replacing my furniture, I got a Vespa. I loved riding my Vespa around San Francisco, and when I decided to move back to New York City, I rode my Vespa across the United States.

That ride lasted two months and exactly 6000 miles. I took the scenic route and spent nights, sometimes several days, with people I met when I stopped for milkshakes or directions. That ride changed the way I saw the land and the people around me, and it changed how I saw myself. By the time I reached New York, the country had put its spell on me and I turned around and moved to Wyoming, with no job, and knowing no one. One day, out of the blue, a new friend brought an orphan coyote pup to my door. I was not expecting this, nor prepared for it, but Charlie moved in with my cat and me, and he is now eight years old. Caring for Charlie gave me a crash course in commitment. He anchored me, and this opened the door for more animals, another book contract, and work I love and am challenged by.

Each opportunity was born from a previous choice I had made, choices that were aligned with my unique truth. With each choice, a very large percentage of my friends and family said “DON’T.” They were worried about the potential pain. And each time, I said, “the hard times are going to come whether I follow your wishes or my intuition. And so I’m going to pack in as much good as I can in the times in between.”

Each one of you knows what this means for you. You will always know what this means for you. Stay in touch with your truth, and allow it to inform your every choice.

— Shreve Stockton, Colorado State University Commencement Address, May 2015

.  .  .

Also by demand, I’ve created mini posters of the text, signed, printed on heavy stock, and available here.


18 Responses to “The Words”

  1. Theresa
    November 17th, 2015 @ 8:21 am

    Great! Thanks so much for sharing, Shreve. Love it.

  2. penny
    November 17th, 2015 @ 8:33 am

    Love that speech!It was a great graduation weekend!!!!

  3. janet M
    November 17th, 2015 @ 8:56 am

    So true, and so wise. Thanks.

  4. LaRue King
    November 17th, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

    True words were wisely spoken. Sometimes God directs our footsteps, knowing our heart’s desire. You are a true free spirit. Thanks for sharing your most inner thoughts with us.
    Charlie is your special angel! Read Isaiah scriptures telling of when mankind will be in harmony with the animal kingdom in God’s perfect new world/paradise.

  5. Anna
    November 17th, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

    Thanks! Some days I need this reminder more than others … shared with a friend who also tweeted this. Hopefully there are more eyes (and ears) that need to remember too.

  6. oniical
    November 17th, 2015 @ 3:18 pm
  7. Melissa
    November 17th, 2015 @ 5:03 pm

    Hi Shreve ~ Who would have thought on this hard, hard day I would get on my computer, go to your site and read this commencement speech. I had not listened to it yet because I have on going problems with my computer freezing when I try to download videos. What a wonderful, spot on, eye opening, just what I needed to remember at this moment speech. I’m going to print this out and keep it to re-read over and over again when I need a subtle or not so subtle reminder to follow MY path and power through the inevitable problems and disappointments that life puts in all our paths. Thank you so much for posting it today!! <3

  8. Leigh
    November 17th, 2015 @ 5:48 pm

    This is beautiful.

  9. JaneK
    November 17th, 2015 @ 10:30 pm

    Thanks! What a great present for today :-)

  10. Marg
    November 18th, 2015 @ 9:30 am

    Your posting is timely as it applies to the world in general. This is one of the hardest times and it’s going to be a long one but it too will pass and it too will have good moments to help us get through it. We will get those moments from each other.

  11. Alyxx
    November 18th, 2015 @ 9:55 am

    I am fast approaching my next quarter….and I needed that speech today more than I think I’ve ever needed words.

    Thank you.

  12. Alyxx
    November 18th, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

    Timing, again, is everything. I’m at work. I’m a MH counselor at a community clinic. These were the very words my client needed – I printed them out for her. (With attribution, of course!!)

  13. shreve
    November 18th, 2015 @ 2:02 pm

    Thank you, all!

  14. Cristina
    November 18th, 2015 @ 7:43 pm

    This is one of the best speeches I’ve read. You nailed it. And it is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Julie
    November 19th, 2015 @ 12:07 am

    lovely, lady. And definitely a keeper. I will be ordering. You and Anne Lamott are my favorite-est (not a word, I know) writers on this planet. Something about how you put your words together, reaches right down into my heart, and I silently nod my acknowledgement. I know that your having Charlie the way you do has something to do with my realizing another similar person in this hard world. Simpatico, I think they call it?

  16. Valerie
    November 22nd, 2015 @ 8:02 am

    This is a propos of absolutely nothing…so please forgive me for that.. I just had to share that, just now, I accidentally typed in to get to your page…made me smile!

  17. Caroline
    November 23rd, 2015 @ 8:03 am

    thank you so much for this words about and sharing, I will print them for others they need

  18. steph nelsen
    November 26th, 2015 @ 1:22 am

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