On Kitten Diaries and Commencement Speeches
I believe (and I trust that my colleagues will agree with me!) that one central characteristic which unites us at the Center for Writing Excellence is the importance of writing, whether public or private, in our lives. I am not at all claiming that writing holds identical significance for all the consultants here, but I do know that, in one way or another, specific kinds of writing have helped us all learn about ourselves and our worlds as we grow. For me, private writing is therapeutic; it allows me to sort through thoughts, feelings, concerns, and dreams in a safe space, and offers, inexplicably, immediate calm and reassurance. In contrast, I find public writing enriching and empowering; it encourages me to consider the minds and receptions of others, and reminds me of the powerful differences writing can make in our world.
From fourth to ninth grade, I was a dedicated journal-writer. In the beginning, I coaxed my mother into purchasing dollar-store diaries patterned with kittens dangling from trees or flowers lilting in a lush field. These diaries had terrible little locks that anyone could have picked or broken with only a modicum of effort, but those locks made me feel safe and secure in the privacy of my thoughts (and I always held the key on my person, to be safe). As I grew older, I purchased my own journals, choosing ones with subtler prints or poetic messages looping in golden script across their covers; as these journals did not come with locks, I was always sure to hide them (and no, I shan’t refer their location here). No matter the physical form of the diary or journal, their quiet pages and their protection from judgment gave me a place to air the frustrations and grievances of my life at the time, and to think through things in writing without fear that I would be teased or pressed for further meaning. We know that we learn as we write, that the process of writing is also one of discovering, and, for me, private journaling was a place where I could discover and consider my thoughts and feelings.
In contrast, as I prepared to graduate from the University of Delaware in the spring of 2015, my peers in the English Education Program chose me to write and deliver the keynote speech for our commencement dinner and awards ceremony. This is one of the most public writing experiences that I have had thus far, and in remembering it, I also recall both the stress and excitement I felt at the prospect of crafting such an important and meaningful text. I wanted to create a speech that would unite my experiences at the University of Delaware and within the English Education Program with those of my peers and, after four years, friends, and I wanted to do so in a thoughtful, meaningful, and memorable way. After a challenging final semester of student teaching and its vigorous demands, I wanted to remind my friends of the significance of our achievements, and to help kindle in them the pride I felt in all of us. In this instance, public writing encouraged me to access the human experiences I shared with my cohort, and to communicate the significance of those experiences through the written and, later, spoken word. I think that the overarching consideration of audience that public writing requires and inspires engenders connections and, in many cases, empathy among us as people. When I delivered the speech, I cried, and all of my friends in the program cried with me. For me, that is one of the greatest strengths of public writing: it makes us think about others, and it helps us grow and understand the world alongside them.
Ultimately, I believe that private and public writing enable us to understand ourselves, our fellow human beings, and our worlds in different but equally meaningful capacities. Private writing helps us understand our feelings, our thoughts, our conceptions and misconceptions, our regrets, and our dreams. I believe and hope that this understanding then leads us to feel empathy for others. As a result, when we turn to public writing, we bring this consideration for our fellow men and women with us, and use the power and meaning of the written word to communicate and build with one another from a place of thoughtfulness and depth.