Address by Jane Pauley

Unedited transcript, subject to change and correction, of Commencement 2010 remarks by Jane Pauley, who received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters.

I’d like to pick up where a wise thinker ended off. One word that I hope you haven’t forgotten: Sunscreen [laughter].

I guess I’ve been fairly successful being Jane Pauley. But I wish I had enjoyed it more. I wish I had worried less about how more successful I might have been if I had been a little more like Barbara Walter [laughter]. Or Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric. I’m always being compared to the best of the best at something or other that they happened to do the best. But, of course, it was mostly me doing the comparing.

I was oddly relieved to read in a biography of Mark Twain that he suffered comparisons too. As the story went, Twain was having an extended house guest of the writer Bret Harte. Twain was aware that Harte had a deadline to meet. He knows that Harte Is deeply in debt and badly needs the money.

Twain knows this because Harte owes money to Mark Twain, who also badly needs the money. And yet, instead of getting to work, Twain watches his guest dine and drink until 1 o’clock in the morning, at which point Mark Twain retired and Harte, finally, gets to work, taking more drink with him. But at 9 a.m. Twain wakes to find his houseguest sober and done. He’s written the story, and one of the best he would ever write. How could he do that so effortlessly?

Well we know that Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, produced a few masterpieces of his own but he would have had to work at it for weeks. Twain was particularly impressed that Harte could work best under pressure. Well, chances are that Bret had been thinking of that story for a long time. The characters, the elements, marinating in his brain consciously or unconsciously. Getting it on paper at last only appeared spontaneous. Plus, he may have required crushing pressure to leverage open that creative door. But apparently, Mark Twain never got over it.

Meanwhile, as we’re all measuring ourselves against someone else, we’re not thinking about the things that we do pretty well. This was a story told to Bill Moyers by an artist who was a young man, lucky to have been discovered by a renowned editor who saw the talent beneath his rough sketches. She encouraged him to write a children’s picture book. He proposed the title, Where the Wild Horses Are.

But soon he made a terrible discovery: He could not draw horses. Now the editor might have said, “Go practice. How hard are horses?” Instead the editor said, “Think about what you can draw.” So he thought and the images that came to him were of his immigrant relatives, the people in his childhood who dressed funny and had terrible teeth and said things like, “I could just eat you up!” Instead of horses he used these boyhood memories for inspiration for the drawings that no doubt inspired you as children: Where the Wild Things Are — Maurice Sendak.

How often we get hung up on what we can’t do. Think about what you can. And if you can’t think of anything, keep thinking. I’ll leave you with something else to think about. I saw this newspaper headline: “Inspiration is everywhere. But you have to be looking.” Class of 2010: Congratulations, and may you find inspiration everywhere you look.