the meaning of life
on may 18th, 2022, i delivered remarks on behalf of the class of 2020 for our belated commencement at yankee stadium.
below, i am sharing the recording of the delivery, as well as a transcription of my remarks on the importance of time and the meaning of life.
for my family, who gave me everything; my teachers, for helping shape my voice; my dearest friends, for believing in me; and for laura and senéad, for reminding me every day how precious life is.
"Hello, Class of 2020! And Class of 2021, we’re glad you’re here too. To all of us, I lift an imaginary toast goblet to say, congratulations on officially graduating, again.
My name’s Amy - but if you don’t know who I am, that’s totally cool. I got dinner with some old study abroad friends a few weeks ago, and our conversation literally started with someone pointing at me and saying, “Oh my god, I forgot you existed.”
We all laughed. Then we admitted to each other just how long ago everything “NYU” felt. Things like study abroad, exams…even each other.
But today, with all of us gathered here at Yankee Stadium, of course we’re reminded about everything “NYU” again. Today, we all chose to hit pause on our now “adult” lives to take a look back. And because this isn’t a normal commencement, and because these past two years haven’t been normal years, I’ll forgo the usual “let’s go change the world” speech and instead, ask us all to spend the next few minutes on the past.
If I asked you to recall one moment from NYU that’ll last you for a lifetime—you’d probably have one. In fact, you all probably have dozens—hundreds, even—that made you want to come here today and celebrate.
I know I’ve been thinking about the serendipity of this particular moment for a while. Because for me, to be standing here right now is nothing short of a miracle.
In 2017, after my fall semester in Prague, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and told I was lucky to be alive. I was extremely underweight, had a shrunken heart, and was *this* close to having a heart attack end my life. The following spring, I was pulled out of NYU and spent it at home alone, recovering my weight, and, more importantly, my sense of self.
What did it mean: to live a life worth living? To be alive?
When I returned to NYU, I felt acutely aware that I was lucky to do even the smallest things. Like live in this city, see a friend, even go to class. I knew I had been granted a second chance at life. So dammit, I was going to make it worthwhile.
Then COVID hit, we all graduated remotely, and all of us were forced to think about—or re-think—what we wanted to do with our lives.
In my case, I moved to Taiwan to teach English under a Fulbright Scholarship. For a few months, everything was wonderful. Then, last April, I nearly lost my life a second time in a freak train accident. Two of my friends were not so lucky.
Now, I’m telling this story not to evoke pity, or to make you sad, I promise. I’m telling it because I bet every single one of us has experienced loss, or grief, or sacrifice, in some way over the last few years, and in spite of it all, we are still here today, with our friends and families, and very much alive.
If that isn’t the definition of resilience, I don’t know what is.
And though we’ve lost much, we’ve also gained much. We’ve gained perspective. We’ve gained patience. We’ve gained a collective sense of how precious life is.
Near-death experience or not, we’ve all had to grapple with the meaning of life amidst chaos over the past few years.
At the wise old age of 23, I feel like I’ve found the answer.
One, the meaning of life is about enjoying the passage of time. It’s about looking forward, yes, but it’s also about looking back — like we are today — at the beautiful moments we’ve already collected in the short amount of time we call one life.
Two, it’s recognizing how short life can be. If nothing else, COVID taught us this.
So, Class of 2020, if there’s just one thing you take away from this speech, it’s that you matter. Your life matters. Your time matters. And because our time here is limited, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of every single moment.