Graduates urged to embrace uncertainty, to 'Follow your bliss.'

“To me, it feels like only moments ago that I ran over from Rhoads Hall to my own Convocation, checking the hem on my extremely mini-skirt and feeling the giddiest sense of disbelief that I was actually going to graduate from this august institution,” Convocation speaker Lynne Meadow ’68 told graduating students. “The Class of ’68 was filled with what I’m sure you’ve heard were illusions, delusions and sometimes hallucinations of mythic proportion. What were we going to become? How would we live up to our prestigious Bryn Mawr degrees? How would we live up to our own idealism, our own expectations of ourselves? Then there was M. Carey Thomas’ infamous quote booming in our mind’s ears—“our failures only marry.”

Meadow, who is Artistic Director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, said that her advice to graduates “experiencing the pressure of Great Expectations, both from yourselves and from the world around ... can best be expressed by the great teacher and writer, the late Joseph Campbell, who said, ‘Follow your bliss.’ ” She related how she had realized this in dealing with leaving Bryn Mawr and embarking upon the world.

After graduating from Bryn Mawr, Meadow studied at Yale School of Drama, where as the only woman director, she felt she “had to be three times better than the best male student.” (She had contested being wait-listed after finding no women at all had been accepted, and was told that her persistence was an “asset in her favor.”) Meadow finally took a leave of absence from Yale, to which she has never returned, and at the advice of an important mentor, went directly to New York to pursue her theatrical career. Her break came after launching a bold new play by a colleague from Yale in a decrepit East Side building, the Manhattan Theatre Club. A Club board member who was a Haverford graduate and who “of course thought Bryn Mawr women were the greatest—even though I was 23 and had never held a job for more than a summer” arranged for her to be interviewed as the new Artistic/Executive Director. During the interview, Meadow discovered that the organization had a deficit of $75,000, but decided, “I’ll try.”

“And thus, 25 years ago began my career of raising money to cover deficits, directing new work, raising more money, and putting together a team of people who were all as inexperienced but eager as I was to create an exciting new theatre,” Meadow said. “There have been many challenges, many difficulties, from the earliest day to the present day. But in my heart I knew that the theatre was still where I wanted to be. So the rewards constantly outweighed what sometimes seemed like an impossible task of staying afloat. And once again, Bryn Mawr provided the guiding principle behind my endeavors...quality, excellence and the process of striving.”

But Meadows reminded graduates, “...you must remember an essential paradox—that finding your bliss also means not trying to find your bliss. ... The theatre is not only a symbol for you today, it’s an important metaphor—things are in flux in the theatre. ... No two performances are ever the same, no two rehearsals are ever the same. And a great performance is when an actor is unrelentingly in the moment, when the actor embraces unabashedly the present moment without trying to anticipate the next moment. ...

“When I left Bryn Mawr, I certainly thought that following my bliss meant a life in the theatre. And to a large extent that has been true. But over the years I have come to understand in the deepest way that bliss is equally having a wonderful relationship with my husband and son, bliss is the friendship I share with many women, some of the deepest of which were made here at Bryn Mawr. And bliss is taking a walk around the reservoir in Central Park. I have come to understand that career and work give a certain definition to our lives but that the true path to self-knowledge comes from staying open to a myriad of influences—it comes from allowing art into our lives, it comes from our relationships, it comes from an open availability to whatever life seems to be presenting us at any given moment. And that includes great obstacles, challenges, doubt, failure, confusion, illness, restlessness, discontent, as much as it includes joy and fulfillment and external displays of success. If we can just be quiet enough with ourselves to stay open, to stay alert, ‘to be awake’ as the Buddah said, ‘to know thyself,’ as Socrates said, then our path to bliss is assured...”

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