Julia Alvarez On a Windy, Sunlit Day in Vermont

Julia Alvarez’s speech to the Middlebury students on a windy, sunlit day in Vermont wouldn’t be long.

She knew there was no roadmap for the life that lay ahead of those souls in their gowns and mortarboards. “Traveler,” she quoted poet Antonio Machado to them, “there is no path, the path is made by walking.”

And Ms. Alvarez was a walker: raised in the Dominican Republic, left for America one night when she was 10 after her father’s involvement in efforts to undermine the Trujillo dictatorship. In New York, she was made an outsider by classmates. But she found a “portable homeland” in books. And became a soul driven to write.

So here was a woman who had walked and lived and learned. And who knew that our path in this life is shaped by choices we make, jobs we take.

“Whatever you do,” she called out into the sunlight, “let it be something that at the end of the day, you can say: I do this because I have a soul.” The wind had died down now. “Every choice, ask yourself is this going to be a soul-making or a soul-selling choice?”

And this soul-making wasn’t clear. And it wasn’t easy. But there was a way to do it. “The way you make a soul,” here, Ms. Alvarez looked straight at the students, “is by giving yourself to what you love.”

Ms. Alvarez had done it. Given herself to writing when there were no writers who looked or sounded like her on bookstore shelves. Given herself to writing when 21 publishers rejected her. Given herself to writing because she loved it with a fierce and a whole heart.

So, there would be no long speech. And there would be no roadmap. For these students sitting in the Vermont sunlight, there was only a path to make. And a woman who looked straight at them and reminded them to make it with love.

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