Bill Bryson speaks at University of Iowa Graduate Commencement – May 13, 2016

Bill Bryson speaks at University of Iowa Graduate Commencement – May 13, 2016

November 25, 2019 1 By Stanley Isaacs


Thank you so much for that thank you
professor Leach for those very kind and generous words in thank you of course to the University of Iowa for
this thrilling honor there isn’t genuinely. There isn’t anywhere else on earth where
such an honor would mean more to me than right here in the state of my birth. I
love Iowa, this is my home, the place that made me. As Jim has just
said to you every bit of formal education that I ever, every formative experience,
every inch vertical growth in my body took place right here in this welcoming,
friendly, nurturing place. This is and always will be the center of my personal
universe. Now I’ve been lucky enough to spend much of my life traveling the
world and i can tell you, honestly, that nowhere have I found people more
friendly, decent, welcoming, wholesome, and helpful and frankly generally better
looking and more intelligent than the people of this fair state of Iowa. If it
weren’t for one or two trivial things like performance in the Rose Bowl and
the weather for about seven months of the year life here would be practically
perfect. So when I say to the dishonor and professor Leach’s generous words of
praise mean more to me than I can possibly express I truly truly mean it. So, thank you all very, very much. Thank you. Now, my instructions are to speak briefly
but intelligently to you for no more than seven minutes. Which I’m very happy
to try to do. And as you all know by long tradition, I am required to offer those
of you graduating this evening some sound and worthwhile advice. And I
suspect that that’s probably not at all a bad idea just now. These are
challenging times after all. I i cant help but notice that not only are you
graduating on Friday the 13th, but a few months and now you’re going to have to
choose between two presidential candidates that as far as I can tell
nobody actually wants to be president. If I were in your shoes I would welcome
all the advice I can get, frankly. Now I have to say I don’t really like giving
advice if I can possibly help it. As one of my children once said to me Dad if
you had followed any of the advice you would give him when you were our age you
wouldn’t look like you do now. And he was right but because I am called upon to
speak on occasions like this from time to time I have given the matter of
advising young people quite a lot of thought over the years and little by
little I have developed a list of 10 simple tips, passing observations really,
things I’ve learned in sixty-eight years of blundering my way around the planet
which I always bring out when called upon graduation ceremonies.These won’t
help you select an ideal president, but they might just help you to lead more
fulfilled and satisfactory lives. And possibly even be better liked by the
people around you. So here without a do they are, my ten simple rules for
happiness: One take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. Now
I know that sounds of trifle obvious, but it’s astounding really how little
time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most
extraordinary stroke of luck an infinitesimal amount of the universe
came–matter in the universe came together twenty or so years ago to make
you. And for the tiniest moment in the great span of creation, you have the
incomparable privilege to exist. For endless eons there was no you. Before too
terribly long you will cease to be again. And in between you have this wonderful
opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your
life nothing will remotely compare with incredible accomplishment of just having
managed to get yourself born. So congratulations everyone of you out
there tonight well-done be proud of yourself you really are quite special. Two: But not that special. There are 7 billion
other people on this planet, every one of them just as important, just as central
to the great scheme of things as you are. Don’t ever make the embarrassing
unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital or significant more innately
worthy than anyone else.You’re not. Three: whatever it is you want to do in life, do
it. If you aspire to be an astronaut, or a celebrated ballerina, to sing at Carnegie Hall, go for it! Even
though everyone is tactfully pointing out to you that you cannot sing a note
that no one has ever won the 100 meter dash with a personal best time of one
minute and 48 seconds, do it anyway if that is your dream. At least try. There’s
nothing worse than getting to my age and saying, “I could have played shortstop for
the Chicago Cubs but my dad wanted me to go into accountancy.” Tell your dad to go
into accountancy, you you climb Everest. Four: never, never sneak up on people from
behind and surprise them in the belief that it is amusing. It’s not. Five: be modest. Don’t go through life boasting about how great you are. Boasting doesn’t become you.
Indeed it doesn’t get you anywhere. No one will ever think you admire you more
deeply or say, “Oh let’s invite Bob and Amy to the party they have such a
wonderfully inflated sense of their own importance.” Let people find out from the
for themselves how great you are, if you are. Six: learn to appreciate small
pleasures. If you think about it, most of every life is a long steady pleasing
accumulation of little things. Of lovely skies, interesting landscapes pleasant
meals, amusing conversation, stimulating challenges, long walks, good books, contented weekends, hot baths, and clean
sheets, little jokes, soft young children, slobbery pets, and a million
things more. Life is mostly good stuff: most of its small and fleeting, much of
it barely noticed, but nearly all of it really quite splendid. Learn to
appreciate those little things if you haven’t already. Seven: be good. In fact, be more than good. Be compassionate. Be kind. And particularly, be kind to people who
are worse off than you, which you will find is most people. And learn to say
please and thank you a lot. You really cannot say thank you too much
in this life. Eight: always buy my books in hardback as soon as they come out. Nine:
above all else, be happy. Really happy, more or less all the time. You have a
million things to be happy about. Your bright and young and you have your whole
lives in front of you. You have been impeccably educated, you live in a rich
country, you’re probably about as fit and healthy as you’re ever going to be, and
you still have more hair on your head that in your nose and in your ears. And
that may not last forever, believe me. So count your blessings and be glad of them.
And finally, ten: and this one is just for Iowa City. If you’re planning to do heavy
construction work involving jackhammers just outside the Hotel Vetro on South
Linn Street, perhaps you might think about starting just a little later than
6:15 in the morning. And on that mildly plaintive note, let me say thank you and
congratulations again to everyone of you graduating tonight. Have a wonderful evening, …thank you… Wonderful life, and enjoy yourself immensely. Thank you.