BOONE—Finding your calling or life’s passion can occur within a matter of seconds. That’s what happened to writer Ayad Akhtar when he was a high school student in Milwaukee.
Akhtar shared his story with others during convocation at Appalachian State University Sept. 10 and told students they could also find their passion if they were willing to be open to new ideas. Akhtar is the author of “American Dervish,” the university’s selection for its 2013 Summer Reading program for incoming students. An author and playwright, he won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“All of you are here today from communities that have raised you … good folks whose ideas and ways have formed you,” he said. “But now is the time to be open to things you haven’t been taught by those people – ways of being that may be different than what you have learned. The truth is, you always stand to gain more by remaining open, by allowing the new ideas you encounter to enter you (and) trying them on to see how they fit before coming to any conclusions. That’s the path to finding your calling.”
Akhtar’s passion for writing was kindled by a high school English teacher who asked students in her world literature class about the meaning of a story she had assigned to them to read. When they had no answer, she explained the story was about the uncertainty of life.
“What happened to me in that moment was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” he said. “Something opened inside me, a vast perspective like the view from a mountain top. The murkiness of life vanished in a sudden moment of purity. In that 15 seconds I saw that exploring the deeper questions of life in stories was the most extraordinary thing I could ever do with my life.”
Akhtar said writing was still a passion that he wakes up with every day.
“That clarity and conviction has never left me. It was like falling in love. I didn’t have to remind myself about it, that sense of mission, of passion, that sense of having a calling. It was there with me all the time,” he said.
He urged his audience to find the voice that guides them, that calls them to their passion.
“I found the nourishment of a lifetime in a literature class I only took because I needed a humanities elective. That is what college is about – being in an environment where you can encounter the things that will change you,” he said. “Be open, be willing, know that taking your development seriously can lead to rich rewards.”