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On Gratitude: Phoebe Speaks

Friday, May 25, 2018

 Writing from a small bed in Freeport, Maine, where Bill, Liam and I are holed up in the midst of a wild, wild weekend of graduation ceremonies:

Everyone loves a grateful person. Conversely, people who act as if the world owes them something just for drawing breath are somewhat less popular, unless they're really good looking or rich and thus somehow mysteriously entitled to respect and admiration by the masses. It's hard to know where gratitude comes from. A certain amount can be instilled ("Say thank you to the nice lady, honey.") But the feeling of gratitude isn't something you parrot out when commanded. You have to feel it deep inside, and then it comes out in intangible ways.

I've never understood people who don't thank waiters, public servants, or anyone who helps them, be it their friends, their parents or their friends' parents. Somebody holds a door for you or cooks you a meal, you acknowledge that. You single them out for thanks.  So I guess, in this house, there has been an expectation of gratitude and acknowledgement for kindnesses large and small instilled from an early age. Again, intangible, but there. It's a culture. Still, when your kids get past the age where you can hiss, "Say thank you!" you hold your breath and hope they remember, and you take them aside and set them straight if they fail to show gratitude. But you can't make them feel it unless they feel it. I am happy to report that both Phoebe and Liam feel and show gratitude in eloquent and sensitive ways. If gratitude be a measure of a person, they are both tall.

So it was with great anticipation that we learned that Phoebe, among all the students receiving scholarships from Bowdoin College, had been asked to prepare a speech thanking the donors to Bowdoin scholarships at a luncheon late last week. When she was home for spring break, she'd riffled through my closets as she often does, and she picked out two cocktail dresses, both in Bowdoin black and white, that she thought might work.  I was bemused to see this long-stemmed lovely wearing my clothes! Who wore it better? The redhead!! But even better than that, she gave her speech to me right there in my studio, because I had long since committed to a keynote for the Biggest Week in American Birding that very same day! Bowdoin offered to fly us both out to see her speak, but only Bill was able to take them up on it. Sigh. He had a marvelous time, and he said he'd never felt more proud in his life.

Through the magic of live streaming and the kindness of Bowdoin staff, I was able to race back from the Magee Marsh boardwalk, which had been crawling with warblers, to my room at Maumee Bay Hotel and watch President Clayton Rose introduce my daughter. Then I watched her take the podium. What a thrill that was! My heart overflowed. I have always told her she is a natural writer; that whatever she does in life, her attention to the craft of writing and storytelling will carry her through and set her apart.

So I sat there, my faithful iPhone running, making a video of the whole thing, intending only to send it to my brother and sisters and aunt and a dear friend or two, and it occurred to me that you might like to see and hear her speak, too.

 And here's the speech. You'll see the back of Bill's head, and he gets up at the end and hugs her. It's pretty sweet.

 I guess what I love most about it, aside from the deep breath she takes as she begins, is that she is so aware that she is both blessed and lucky to have been raised to aspire to more. Her empathy for her high school classmates comes through loud and clear. So does her self-awareness, her sense of where she fits in the rarefied atmosphere she has been privileged to breathe. It's a delicate line she walks in this speech, and I think she toes it like a pro. Being able to get up and do that--to make people feel something-- is a tremendous gift in itself. Anyway, enough of my blabbin'. Enjoy the speech.

The quiet and completely self-effacing hero of this madcap weekend in Brunswick, Maine, when both our children graduate, is Liam. He is skipping his own high school graduation back in Marietta to support his sister, to dwell in the reflected glory of her honors-festooned graduation ceremonies. He made Dean's List at Washington State Community College, where he's taken the last two years' worth of his courses, readying himself for fall admission to West Virginia University. He won't get to march with his class at Marietta High School, but not a peep of complaint from him as he holds his weary, exhausted, much celebrated sister close here in Maine. I have never been more proud of both of them.



I have the cleanest eyeballs in town.

Wow. Double Wow. Triple Wow. Can't think of a more appropriate awarding of a Fulbright. You and Bill have every right to be over-flowing with pride.
And Phoebe--much success to you.
Thank you for being--while I frequently say "the world will be saved by beauty" I now must say--"the world will be saved by Phoebe, and people like her."
Thanks to Julie and to Bill for all the nurturing you did.

WOW great speech. Great must be very proud.

Standing ovation for them both.

I've not yet watched Phoebe's speech: must wait till my eyes dry after seeing the photo of Liam and and Bill "done good" and are blessed for it.

Nailed it

Wonderful! I am a Phoebe & Liam fan!
And their parents are stellar!
Thanks so much for sharing.

Dave and I are both weeping.

Wow. I can’t even fully articulate how incredible that was. Beautiful souls... all of you. I wish you were my mom. I too have the cleanest eyeballs❤️❤️❤️❤️

Congratulations Phoebe, well done. Amazing children but look at their parents why would they not be. So happy for all of you. Amazing to see how they have grown up right before my eyes.

choked me up-absolutely beautiful. You are a lucky lady Julie, and a great mom

Wait!, is it really possible that Phoebe has graduated college (…is it even possible she has a drivers license)? Has time passed THAT quickly!
Well congrats to all (...and all of Whipple ought be proud as well!). No doubt we’ll be seeing much of Phoebe & Liam in the future; pure joy to have followed their journeys thus far.

Julie! As ever, thank you for sharing your life and lovely family with us out here. (I miss Chet Baker something awful though!) Congratulations to all of you! And lots more blessings to come!!!

Congrats to a well deserved accomplishment/ you best one so far. Looking forward to the rest of her fascinating life as well as that if such a self sacrificing son/ brother!! Good job oarents!!

( hmm, must have something in my eyes, blink blink)

Thank you Julie, for sharing your world with all of us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Julie, for sharing this marvelous experience with us. Tears fill my eyes still as I write this, and I only know you all from a distance. You and Bill have to be so proud of both Phoebe and Liam. They indeed are amazing, capable, caring individuals, mature far beyond their years. What an inspiration Phoebe has been to Liam, her friends, you and Bill, your families, and because of your willingness to share your story as they have grown, also for us, your readers and followers.

I think there is a book in that speech. Phoebe hit a home run, even if it was for the Pirates.

Continued blessings for you and your incredible family. Please give Phoebe our best.

With great appreciation,


i sat here for several minutes, trying to think of something clever and original to say. All of that has been said and I can only echo it but I do want to say: Congratulations to her Mama. As one Mama bird to another, well done!

Brava to her! The love and tenacity she reflects is truly outstanding and she absolutely deserves it all.. Pass the kleenx!

The crab bucket analogy killed me. I literally gasped out loud at that story about the mom rebuking her child. Unconscionable.

Thank all the gods your children have you and Bill! Great job mama!

I am in tears I’m so proud of your Phoebe! Such grace, poise, gratitude and empathy she displays! Well done, parents! ❤️

What a spectacular human being! Congratulations to Phoebe and to you and Bill. Our children are our most important work and you have done yours well.

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