The Magic of Snow: A Graduation Speech

It has been many months since I have written anything else besides cover letters, dissertation edits or shopping lists. Although I find myself writing every day, my soul has not written a single word. When I announced to a friend that I had just completed my Ph.D., she congratulated me and quickly asked if I had been doing any writing lately. The irony of that question startled me at first and then slowly left a sting somewhere in the back of my throat. While I politely explained that I had little energy left over after writing and re-writing a lengthy dissertation to write or paint anything remotely creative, I felt the temperature rise of my inner voice. Was I justifying myself? Was the completion of a doctoral degree not quite enough? My friend’s question settled in and I felt matter-of-factly disgusted and somewhat tired that I still was easily affected by something I thought I had made peace with long ago. The question, if you must know, embodies the entirety of an artist life – a frustrated artists life, I might add. The actor who produces someone else’s show, the writer who teaches language arts, the chef who manages a diner. You know what I am talking about.

It has been a long time since I last identified myself as an artist. You get to the point when you realize that you are not an artist unless you make money creating art. In fact, the other day, while rummaging through an unkempt drawer, I found an old business card of mine that I had printed out in one of those quick print machines you find in the subway corridors of Madrid’s metro. On it was written my full name in lovely print and underneath, my title, Actriz. At first I considered tossing it and then thought better enough to lay it gently back in its place, as if such a gesture may pay homage to that older version of myself. That was a long time ago. I remembered my dream back then to be on stage, recognized by the passerby, to pass a head shot from one hand to another. Then, I realized, that in front of my students, in front of a room of teachers and administrators, at an interview, defending my dissertation via video- conference I was after all an actress acting out an educator’s role.

So what does this have to do with the magic of snow? Well, let me explain. As I look out the window this morning watching the fluffy light snow flakes cover the tiniest branches on every tree, I am amazed that just two days ago while feeding the ducks at the park with my daughter – a women jogged happily by wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts singing “It’s spring, it’s spring!” And my daughter and I felt her joy because we too were enjoying the seventy- degree weather. Just two days ago the blue jays that make a home across the street from my front door, wrestled each other and flew gently through the warm air and my daughter was asking the infamous three year old question, “Why? Why is it so warm today, Mama?” And, I couldn’t begin to explain and when the news predicted snow, I couldn’t really believe that the weather could be so unpredictable. As far back as I could remember there was one thing I could expect and that was the welcoming tide of four seasons, one right after another with the appropriate range of warm temperatures in Spring and cold in winter. And thus, looking out the window this morning, I thought, the magic of snow.

When I was a teenager, my expectation was that I was going to be an actress. As I got older, after I had attended college here and abroad, I thought better to be a writer so that I could express my reflective soul. Even later, I began to paint and while moving out of the classroom into a teacher educator’s role (and a mother’s role), I began to see that my destiny had very different plans for me. As time passed by and rejection letters became the norm, I began to realize that life is a great deal about following the open door and making peace with those that just won’t open no matter how hard you try. Embarking on a career as an educator, going back to school myself to complete an advanced degree, has in many ways been about channeling my frustration and angst about my own education process, the “enlightenment” process, so to speak – into something I knew I could achieve. The ambiguity and passion of art moved me, inspired me and nurtured my inner voice but prudence required that I mold a different outside world for myself and my family. Ultimately, I believed that a career in education was something I could control. I used to believe that I could determine my fate if I worked hard enough and long enough. But I am not too sure about that anymore. Sometimes you can work hard and long at something and not achieve anything at all, unless you count determination and stamina. Sometimes you can believe passionately about something and nothing at all will come of it, unless, of course, you count faith and humility. Sometimes you can give it all you’ve got and get nothing in return except for a deep sense of service and often sacrifice.

I thought that on the day I was awarded my degree, I would feel vindicated for all the art in me I felt I had to sacrifice. That somehow, this accomplishment would validate a life’s work, my writing, my failures as an artist would be forgiven, my passion revisited, you know – justice, truth for all. But, today, just a day after I’ve received this great honor, I can’t help look out the window at the falling snow and wonder what it was all about. I think the lesson that I learned throughout this long process is that sometimes, almost magically, it snows in the spring and flowers bloom in December. At first it seems overwhelmingly scary, and we try to explain it but the truth is, we might never know why. Sometimes, we will feel sadness when its time to celebrate and joyful when all is lost. It is just life’s way of reminding us just how small and great we really are.

I don’t know what my future brings. I am packing boxes these days, moving to a new home, several boxes hold my research that has been with me for many years now. I want to maintain hope and trust that my research and degree will be put to good use. That I have something to offer those who are walking through open doors or those who are struggling to make peace with a closed one. I am writing again.

Thank you to all of you who have offered your help and support during this time. It is impossible to do anything alone.