Commencement Address by Ann
A call for peace and harmony
It’s obviously an honor to be asked to speak at your graduation, and I first want to express my
gratitude to you—my beautifuls, my goofballs, my cutepeas, my dorks—for the experiences
I’ve shared with you over the past three years and all I’ve learned from you. You’re an
inspiring and passionate group with farranging interests, and within this class there are
budding writers, scientists, NHL team presidents, child psychologists, surgeons, social
activists, lawyers, business owners, teachers, actors, musicians, and artists. And, beyond
these roles, and even more important in many ways, within this class there will be mothers
and fathers, committed partners, close friends to people you’ve yet to meet—citizens whose
care and concern for others will, in ways great and small, help build communities whose
members all feel heard, valued and needed. And it is to this latter group—to those roles that
most closely reflect our humanity—that I would like to speak. Because to fully realize your
individual passions and talents, to fully live and so leave the world better because of you, you
must not only cultivate your interests and talents, but you must connect with others—others
who are like you, and, much more importantly, others with whom you think you have little or
nothing in common.
Being a word nerd, when I recently stumbled upon a book entitled In Other Words: A
Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World, I bought a copy. In
the book’s forward, the author and journalist Simon Winchester writes, “The moment you
understand the words and phrases and the wonderfully sensible concepts that they frequently
encapsulate, you have come some small way toward understanding the people who employ
them.” And as I read through the book in these past few weeks—weeks I have spent
searching for the language to express just how much I love and admire you—I couldn’t help
but think of you when I alighted upon two words in particular. For anyone in the audience who
speaks Japanese or Indonesian, I apologize in advance for what I’m sure will be my abysmal
mispronunciation of these words.
The first word is the Japanese term “shibui,” (shibooee),which “describes an aesthetic that
only time can reveal. As we become older and more marked by the riches of life’s experience,
we radiate with a beauty that stems from becoming fully ourselves. The term can be applied
to almost anything—a landscape, a house, or even a piece of aged wood can be deemed a
work of art.” And my wish is that you, class of 2015, carry with you this idea—that each of you
is a work of art. Most great pieces of art have dissonance and harmony, darkness and light,
textures that reflect layers of feeling that ultimately comprise a whole entity. And you are each
works of art that are about to embark upon your next phase of life that will add shades and
new dimensions to your fundamental selves. I have had the incredible experience of watching
upclose—as through a telephoto lens—your transformation from gawky and goofy
sophomores that at times brought to mind fledgling herons into majestic creatures whose
elegance, passion, and deep intelligence is moving. You have all gone through
difficulties—some emotional, some physical, some both— and come out with new wisdom.
There are those of you who have harbored great doubts about your ability, but have gone on
to create gorgeous pieces of writing, have graced us with your voices from the stage, and
have immersed yourselves in subjects you thought too difficult but that have led you to a new
understanding of who you are and what you want to do with your lives. So when you feel you
are struggling—which will happen, as it is a necessary part of life—do your best to remember
you are a work of art and that your struggles will only add to your beauty.
The second word, from Indonesia, is Gotongroyong(gotongroiong),which means “to carry
a heavy burden together,” and “it has been used to convey the sense that the common good
is more important than the individual.” And this is where the idea of connection comes to the
fore. Our need to connect with—to try to understand—others is all too evident in the recent
headlines out of Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and here in Chicago. But those headlines
are mere snippets of what goes on every day in communities across the country and around
the world. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what is happening to others is of no
consequence to us. But when even one person in a community suffers, it affects us all. So as
you move through your lives, push yourselves to know people not of your social, political, or
economic background. It is too easy for us to live in the familiar—to spend our time with only
those who think or look like us. But we can’t fully know ourselves unless we have
relationships with people whose differences cause us to examine who we are and what we
hold as our beliefs. And when disagreements do arise, do your best to listen closely,
understand that we have all endured pain and sorrow and that not one person on this Earth is
without faults. Then talk, and listen, talk, and listen, and avoid throwing labels at others that
will shut down conversations. We are all far too complex to be wrapped in a single word or
And in the spirit of building a strong community, cultivate moments of awe, those
moments when you’re covered in goosebumps. A recent article in the NY Times by two
psychologists discussed “how even brief experiences of awe led people to feel less
narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one
another.” And that in our contemporary society—”where we spend more time connected to
electronics and less time outdoors or attending arts events—people have become more
selffocused, more materialistic, and less connected to others. But to reverse this trend, and
to make a stronger community, it takes only to insist on experiencing more everyday awe—to
actively seek out what gives us goosebumps, whether it is looking at trees, patterns of wind
on the water,” or staring lovingingly into your dog’s eyes.
Thanks to you, I have been provided with countless such moments of aweinspired
goosebumps. Your art, your music, your insistence on justice, your poetry, your study of
lightwaves, your stealing of bases, your perfect pass to a teammate, your words of gratitude,
your helping of others through difficulties, your standing on stage to teach us all about your
culture, your celebration of one another’s successes have all allowed me to experience the
I have been awed by you and am better because of you, and I know that as you move
through the world, if you engage with it fully—if you embrace the truths of shibou (shiboo
ee)and Gotongroyong(gotongroiong) your beauty will transform even the bleakest corners.
I love you. Be well, my beautifuls.
The McGlynn: Highly recommend
Twelve years ago
Mateo Xavier Manuel Rodriguez Aguerra–Veracruz wandered across the border from New Mexico with dreams of exploring the world but got no further than Ciudad Juárez. Known as Penco—the orphan—he paints and contemplates the stories of his lost childhood. He has only recently started working as a bus driver and while his friends consider his new job an insult to his art, making the rounds of the city begins to work a change in him.
El Penco is available on Amazon
Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Ann McGlinn graduated from Indiana University and received her master’s in fine arts from the University of Montana. She lived in both the Chama Valley of Northern New Mexico and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where she absorbed the smells and colors and music of the region that she brings to life in El Penco. She now lives with her family in Chicago, where she teaches at the Latin School of Chicago.
Lush, lyrical, and vibrant . . . if James Salter had travelled to Mexico, this is the novel he might have written.
— Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Close Your Eyes
A vivid, beautifully crafted story that stays with you like the night’s last dream.
— Deirdre McNamer, author of Red Rover
Review By Lydia on February 19, 2014
I loved this book, and it offers a lot to love.
It’s the deeply serious story of an artist’s quest to heal and mature. McGlinn explores El Penco’s journey patiently and thoroughly, while preserving the essential mystery of it.
The Mexican border town and it’s people are brought to vivid life here, and play an essential role in the life of El Penco, battering and comforting him back to life. It’s a pleasure spending time in this place, with these people.
Another great pleasure of the book is that McGlinn takes her writing as seriously as she takes her story. She writes with a wonderful, seamless mix of simple prose and vivid poetry. Her novel is full of small pleasures like this description of bathing a dog: “Penco rinses the tub and watches short hairs make their way toward the drain. A stream of little wires. A parade of canoes falling one by one down the black hole.”
Like El Penco, Mcglinn is a serious artist, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The Mystery of Bunny McGlynn: A True Story
The McGlynn: Back in late summer of 1940 my family returned to Leavenworth, Kansas from St Louis, Missouri. Having spent the summer with my cousin Willie in Leavenworth, I greeted them as they arrived, in a pick-up truck at our new home on Ottawa street. On top of the piled furniture was Bill’s quacking duck. My bunnies were nowhere. They had been left behind! Since then no one would tell me what happened to my bunnies.
Last year I assigned Ann the mission to find out the truth as to what happened to my bunnies. This is her report.
The car, fully loaded with boxes, suitcases, bickering children, a rabbit, a duck and fishing gear, appeared incapable of movement. Your father taped red paper, gently removed from your brother Bill’s model airplane, over the flashlight that would serve as the rear left tail light. Bill did his best to fight back tears at seeing his denuded plane (now nothing more than a balsa skeleton of flight), but he knew the trip from East St. Louis to Leavenworth would be long, and their safety was at stake.
But there was the issue of weight. Upon tying the bunny’s cage to the car roof (right next to the duck’s)1 , the undercarriage of the car sank dangerously low to the pavement. The bunny, shocked by the sudden shift beneath him, realized his recent weight gain (thanks to generous meals provided to him by his owner, Dick) would cause a dilemma for this loving family. Also, unbeknownst to Dick, the bunny had started a family of his own, and he was saddened by the idea of leaving his new family in the lurch. So, as Dad McGlinn added another layer of tape to the tail light, bunny nosed open his cage door, hopped off the car roof, and bounded his way south on Ripa Street until he found his family’s bunny hole where he lived for many years in health and happiness.
But the story doesn’t end there. McBunny’s many offspring had bunnies of their own, and soon an entire colony of McBunnys populated South St. Louis. Over the decades, they set off to discover other cities (some said to be lined with streets of carrots) and a McBunny population has exploded as far north as Lincoln Square, Chicago, IL where McBunnies (known by their distinctive habit of chewing up Republican political posters to build nests for their young) now happily multiply.
This journalist was able to capture a grainy image*2(provided on the front of the attached card) of a great-greatgrandson of the original McBunny. It was taken on a recent Spring evening in Chicago, just outside a local juice bar.
1.)Your father’s actions do not reflect those of Mitt Romney, who tied his dog’s cage to the roof during a family vacation. Your father, unlike Mitt, was a gentle and considerate man who made sure the cages were secured behind a windshield of suitcases. They were also covered by well-ventilated tarps to shade the animals from the sun. He also knew the car wouldn’t be moving fast enough to cause the animals distress.
2.)Picture will be forthcoming.
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