It was kind of a big night last night here at UAA in Anchorage. We had what they call a group dinner- a notch up from the cafeteria in a nicer room with hot food in chafing dishes on the buffet table- but we still had paper plates and plastic forks. Teacher Craig Childs eats all his meals out of a battered camping pot. He is an outdoor kind of guy. At first I thought he'd been cooking in the parking lot. Anyway, a trio of talented students played Pomp and Circumstance on guitars and fiddles, and the faculty said nice things about we graduates and gave us each a framed picture of a collage of words from our writing, which are really neat. There was a video about an MFA student who was shot and killed by a crazy man for no reason here in Anchorage the winter before I started the program. It makes a mother's heart stop to think of it. How can anyone prepare for such a horror? He was warming up his car to go to church and was shot in the head. I know, can it get worse than that? (Don't answer that. It can, and does, and how some people can even wake up in the morning in a world of such woe I don't know. But that's another story.) Jason Wenger's teachers memorialized him with a scholarship in his name. The Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence was given last night to poet Vivian Faith Prescott, essayist Joan Wilson, and me. I am honored, but you know, it would have been so much better if the award never existed, and that young man was instead still writing stories. The good thing is that looking at my certificate sure makes me want to write all I can, as long as I can, and to vow never to ever complain about how busy or tired or uninspired I might be. I'm here. You are too.Today is our gift.