What is the subject of the speech "Attitude" by Margaret Atwood?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Margaret Atwood gave the speech "Attitude" during the commencement ceremony for graduates of University of Toronto on June 14th, 1983. 30-some years later, much of what she says still rings true for graduates of liberal arts schools today. 

In the speech, Atwood discusses many topics. She talks about her own experience at a liberal arts school and uses a humorous tone to describe her many escapades and trials afterwards, finding work and advancing her writing. 

Atwood also discusses the uncertainty that many of the graduates are about to face, saying that "ejection" is a better word for what they are doing, as the students will be ejected from the relative safety of college and thrown into an uncertain real world where they'll have to make their way. As a metaphor, she says, "There are definitely going to be days when you will feel that you’ve been given a refrigerator and sent to the middle of a jungle, where there are no three-pronged grounded plugholes."

Atwood then launches into the story of preparing her speech, giving a few examples of messages she considered leaving the graduates with, most humorous bits of hopelessness, like the uselessness of everything she learned in college and silly theories on writers and writing. 

In the last three paragraphs of her speech, though, Atwood gets to her main message: that the graduates will have a choice as they face the often dismal world. They can choose to look at the negative or positive in life and that choice impacts the world. As she puts it, "You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it, and this, paradoxically, alters reality. Try it and see."