Graduation address: the text version

Reading about a friend and writing mentor’s forthcoming book, Many Restless Concerns, I was reminded why the words of my graduation address were chosen, and why I felt strong and engaged delivering them. Throughout history, women have been put through an unfathomable quantity and depth of subjugation, mistreatment, and worse.

For this reason and for inspiration in bringing a voice to those who suffer injustice (not to mention her always excellent work), Gayle Brandeis‘ new book is one I shall not miss. The book’s blurbs paint a picture of a beautiful and difficult lyric storytelling about the several hundred young women tortured and killed by the Countess Bathory of Hungary. Read about the book and pre-order Many Restless Concerns at a discount before its December 2019 release.

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Below is the text of my 2018 Antioch Los Angeles MFA graduation address, with thanks to my class and to all in attendance. It is particularly the fifth paragraph that came to mind as I read about Gayle’s new book.

Congratulations, MFA graduates. 2018 marks the 21st anniversary of Antioch University’s excellent Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program – yes, they’ve matured to drinking age. Eloise Klein Healy founded our program and continues to support writing students. It also marks the 46th anniversary of the establishment of our Los Angeles campus.

In the last two years, we have learned together, as a community, to write each word with purpose, to read and weigh each word’s meaning, and to be the voice of concerned and engaged citizens. We have grown as individuals and together as classmates, and we have experienced the profound change Dr. Steve Heller suggested on our very first day. I hope we are always students of writing, always students engaging our communities. Yet today, we are writers, more aware, more vocal, and more active.

We have learned to write every day; to write awful first drafts, and to revise and revise and revise. We have learned to write crazy, critical, romantic, and true ideas; to fight hate with words and love. We have learned to recognize our inner critic and how to permeate our outer shell from within. Though we could already write, with the support of mentors equally dedicated to Antioch’s mission, we have learned to write better; and with our writing to connect people and ideas. Here, we have learned to connect love and hope with causes, community, and action.

As we conclude our journey in the creative writing program, we shall continue practicing Antioch’s mission, for it has been introduced and accepted into our writing DNA. We began this program because we believed in social, economic, and environmental justice. As writers, we are now even better equipped to honor this mission, through our voices, our poetry, our stories, and essays, to a world in need of inspiration, encouragement, and support for social justice.

In 1869, British philosopher John Stuart Mill, on the subjugation of women, said, “The legal subordination of one sex to another — is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a system of perfect equality, admitting no power and privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.” Add to that race, color, human difference. One hundred and forty-nine years have passed since his words, yet this message is every bit as relevant and vital today, if not more so.

The singer, Morrissey, once titled a Smiths album, “Strangeways, Here We Come.” This could have been 2017’s inauguration theme. We have seen the height of strange, justice-stripping policies and actions in the world during our time here. We have witnessed new depths of inhumanity and resultant apathy, and seen our values tested and undermined by the highest offices of our country. Social, economic, and environmental justice now evolve, for us, from this MFA program to our stories and communities in the world.

This is our moment, with our voices and imprints, to make the impact we choose on the world.

Thank you.

My Creative Writing MFA

Kelly Ian Hobkirk - writer, speaker

‘Mama’ or ‘Dada’ were not my first words. I’m fairly certain my first words were, “No college.” I repeated the mantra in high school, in art school, and all the way through my design and advertising career. I did not need a degree to ascend to the top of the advertising career path, and once there, I helped many a company grow and make millions.

But, as happens, everything changed—survival of a health issue, the death of a close friend, and perspective changes led me to seek something more out of life. I already knew inside out how to build and market brands, and I could do it for the rest of my days if I chose, but I sought a deeper connection and a much more open mind.

I always thought university would be about imposition, submission, and compliance, and that belief had formed my no college myth. The cool thing about myths is, they can be obliterated. Antioch University helped me do just that.

In university, I gained a greater social awareness, and I learned I am a writer. I guess it’s more accurate to say, I remembered I am a writer. Poetry was the gift that flipped a switch in my mind during grade school, enabling me to embrace learning. I had forgotten this.

In high school, I took every elective art class offered. I honed my drawing skills, and learned painting, calligraphy, and graphic design. I took them over and over, learning as much as I possibly could. I was working as a designer by seventeen, a magazine art director by eighteen.

At nineteen, I completed my course requirements for art school two weeks early, so I sat in the computer lab writing. I recall one of my classmates peeking over my shoulder to see why I was making so much noise typing when everyone else was feverishly mousing away. I was writing a short story.

She said, “Kelly, this is good. It’s funny.”

I looked up humbly, saying, “Thank you, but I’m just playing around. I’m a designer.”

She said, “You’re a good designer, but you’re missing your calling. You are a writer.”

After a thirty-year career in advertising, all it took was the desire for massive change, the right university, an amazing cast of teachers, seven years of writing books in their classrooms and libraries, and an incredibly talented and supportive cohort to realize my old design classmate was right. The efforts culminated in an MFA in Creative Writing, a ton of personal growth, and the great honor of giving the student address at graduation.

I am Kelly Ian Hobkirk. I’m a writer.