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Neil Gaiman: one of this year's best commencement speakers (+ video)

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Jayson Wold/HarperCollins

(Read caption) 'American Gods' author Neil Gaiman spoke at the commencement held by the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

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It’s being called one of the best commencement speeches of the year in the arts and it is everything a good commencement speech should be – heartfelt, upbeat, funny.

Beloved award-winning author and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman delivered the keynote address and received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts at Philadelphia’s the University of the Arts’ 134th Commencement. It was, Gaiman confessed, the first commencement address he delivered – or attended (in a moment of sweet irony, he noted that he never attended college).

The British author who transformed the graphic novel into a work of high literary art with his epic 75-part comic book series “The Sandman” retraced his career (or non-career, as he explains) with warmth, insight, and wisdom.

He learned to navigate life and writing (which he called an adventure, not work) on his own, mastering an impressive range of subjects without any formal education along the way.

“I learned to write by writing,” he told the graduates. “I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and stopped when it felt like work, which meant life did not feel like work.”

In many ways, he said, the art world, including publishing, is in flux, giving those who work in the arts incredible opportunities.

“The distribution systems are in flux. That’s intimidating and immensely liberating,” he said. “Rules are breaking down, gatekeepers are leaving their gates. Old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are, so make up your own rules.

“The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts are made by people who have not tested the bounds by going beyond them, and you can,” he counseled the grads.

In a speech perfectly crafted for a class of 526 newly-minted arts grads, Gaiman encouraged his audience to make mistakes and make art.


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