Barbara Walters

You’ll take it off. We were talking earlier when I was having lunch with some of you about Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t write down her interview because I didn’t know how many of you would remember her, but then I realized that there was a movie, The Iron Lady. What I learned from Margaret Thatcher was how to live with failure. She had been the first female prime minister, the longest raining prime minister. Then her own party kicked her out. I interviewed her right after she was no longer prime minister. She was in a very depressed stage. She said, “The telephone rings and I think I must answer it and I must go back to Downing Street and then I realize that isn’t me.” She said it is so important, and you’re so young now, and you’re just beginning, but you will, I hope not, but you will perhaps have some failure. You will be able to go on, add a new chapter, and have a more interesting time even. When I went to ABC to be the first female co-anchor of a network news program I was a total flop.

The headlines in the paper said, “Barbara Walters, a flop.” I was in anguish, but the best thing that happened to me was that I had to work my way back. That’s when I did all the interviews that we talked about. If you have a failure you will rise. You will be fine. You will work your way back. Do not sink into why me, woes me. It’s not my fault. To give you an example of that I want to read to you the words of a man named Christopher Reeve. I’m reading this to you because life, sometimes, brings enormous difficulties and challenges that seem just too hard to bear, but bear them you can, and bear them you will. Your life can have a purpose. Christopher Reeve’s life did. Let me remind you of who he was. He was a fine actor. He was famous for playing Superman in films and he was a superb athlete. He sailed, and he skied. Most of all he was a great horseman until 1995 when his horse failed to jump over a hurdle in a riding competition.

The horse fell, and he fell with it. He found himself completely paralyzed from the neck down, this man who had been this adventurer and actor, and athlete. His wife came to him and said, “Chris, if you want us we will find the way to pull the plug.” He was lying in bed with the tubes, completely immobile. She said, “Remember, you are still you.” Which had two connotations. You are still you and you are still you. She left the room and a doctor came in, in a white coat with a heavy accent. The doctor said, “I’m a proctologist. Turn over.” Reeve looked at this doctor as if he were insane. The doctor said, “I told you. I told you. Turn over.” As he was about to try to find some way of getting a nurse, or someone instead of this crazy doctor, he looked up and he realized it was Robin Williams. He had gone to Julliard with Robin Williams and he burst out laughing.

He said, “If I can laugh I can live.” These are the words of Christopher Reeve. “You gradually discover, as I’m discovering, that your body is not you. The mind and the spirit must take over. That’s the challenge as you move from obsessing about why I and it’s not fair and when will I move again, and move into well, what is the potential. Now I see opportunities and potential I wasn’t capable of seeing. Every moment is more intense and valuable than it ever was. I’ve received over 100,000 letters from all over the world. It makes you wonder why do we need disasters to really feel and appreciate each other? I’m overwhelmed by people’s support of me. If I can help people understand that this can happen to anybody that’s worth it right there, so I really think being on a journey.” I said, “Do you think you will walk again?” He said, “I think it’s very possible that I will walk again.” “And if you don’t?”

“Then I won’t walk again. As simple as that. Either you do or you don’t. It’s like a game of cards,” he said. “If you think the game is worthwhile then you just play the hand you’re dealt. Sometimes you get a lot of face cards and sometimes you don’t. I think the game is worthwhile. I really do.” He got to the point, after years of doing exercise and experiments where he could breathe without a respirator in his throat. For the first time, because he didn’t have the tube in his throat, he could smell a rose or taste coffee. That was an enormous accomplishment. He had some feeling in his chest. When I hugged him, the last time I saw him, he could feel the pressure. He could feel the hug. He made a good life, as Christopher Reeve did, with his wife Dana and their three children. He lectured, directed films, and raised millions of dollars and the consciousness of scientists to promote research into stem cells hoping that he would be able to cure the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury.

His life, though very hard, had meaning and purpose. His death in October of 2004 was a great loss. What have I tried to say to you as you enter this brand new chapter of your life and what I hope is going to be a long and fulfilling life with a lot of different hats that you’ll be wearing? Don’t worry about finding your bliss right now. Not even our president knew what his bliss was, nor did I. One of these days, to your own surprise, your bliss will find you.

No matter what you don’t be like my grandma Lilly. Participate. Be there full force, full heart, full steam ahead. In making choices when in doubt trust your gut. Does this feel right? Does this feel good? Remember the decision is ultimately yours alone to make. Remember this today when you’re talking with parents, friends, and grandparents. The decision is ultimately yours alone to make. When jealous, angry, or afraid try compassion and warmheartedness. Nourish your friends and finally whatever hand you are dealt I hope you will find the game worthwhile. I do. Rarely have I been happier with the hand that I have been dealt than I am today with the honor and pleasure of meeting you. I thank you and I hope that your life will be like a great white oak. I thank you.


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