Liz sits in a conference center in Argentina, listening to a man speak. The man is the Dalai Lama.
The epilogue takes place several years after the previous chapter, and shows that Liz has been doing well, given that she’s now meeting with some of the world’s most influential people.
The Dalai Lama concludes his speech, and begins to take questions from his audience, made up mostly of CEOs and other powerful businesspeople. Liz asks a question—but before she explains what this question is, she offers “a little explanation of how that day came to be.”
The epilogue begins and ends with Liz’s question to the Dalai Lama, so that the epilogue comes “full circle” in a satisfying way.
In the last few years, Liz’s life has changed in almost every way. She’s been the subject of magazine articles and a TV movie, and she’s received countless awards. She’s also graduated from Harvard in 2009.
Instead of basking in her success after being admitted to Harvard, Liz has continued to work hard, graduating on time and inspiring people around the world with her heroic life story.
During Liz’s time in college, Daddy quits drugs, but HIV continues to ravage his body. One day freshman year, Liz gets a call from New York and rushes back home to be with her father. The call turns out to be a false alarm, and Daddy survives. However, death is a “constant possibility” for him. Liz spends more time with her father during her college years than she has previously, even though she’s working hard and traveling internationally to give motivational speeches.
Notice that, rather than fleeing from her father (as she did with her mother), Liz makes sure to take care of Daddy, giving him emotional and at times financial support while he deals with his disease. Amazingly, Liz manages to do all this even while she also works hard and travels around the world. The concentration and willpower that she developed at HPA have continued to serve her well.
Today, Sam is happily married and living in Wisconsin. Lisa is a college graduate and works as a schoolteacher for autistic kids. Bobby is studying to be a nurse; he’s the father of two children. Liz is close with Lisa and with her Bronx friends.
Liz keeps in touch with many of her old friends, showing that even though her life has changed in many ways, she hasn’t lost touch with her past.
Daddy visits Liz at Harvard and leaves a card for her. The card reads, “Lizzy, I left my dreams behind a long time ago, but I know now that they are safe with you. Thank you for making us a family again.” After graduating from college, Liz celebrates with her friends and family.
In many ways, Liz achieves the same things that Daddy wanted to achieve before his life was derailed by drug addiction. And this is the meaning of Daddy’s message to Liz: he’s proud of his daughter in part because he recognizes in her the same qualities that brought him success in his early life. It’s also clear from Daddy’s letter that Liz has made an effort to become closer with her father and sister, rather than turning her back on them, as she’s done before.
Liz’s question for the Dalai Lama is simple: “Your Holiness, you inspire so many people, but what inspires you?” He replies, “I don’t know, I am just a simple monk.” Liz is a little confused by this answer, and she’s not alone. Some of the other guests interpret the Dalai Lama’s reply as an expression of Zen wisdom, while others just say he didn’t understand the question. Liz realizes that the Dalai Lama’s reply can be interpreted in almost any way: it has whatever meaning the audience members give it.
The Dalai Lama’s response has a Zen-like quality: it’s a short, cryptic phrase like a “koan” (a famous example is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”), which can be interpreted in a virtually infinite number of ways.
Liz prepares to give her own speech in the same conference center. As she steps out onto the stage to speak to executives from around the world, she draws a conclusion inspired by the Dalai Lama: “Homeless person or business person, doctor or teacher, whatever your background may be, the same holds true for each of us: life takes on the meaning that you give it.”
Taking her cues from the Dalai Lama (a pretty good role model), Liz makes a speech, the theme of which is that each human being makes their own meaning: thus people have the power to overcome adversity through hard work and a positive attitude. Liz’s own life seems like the perfect example of this idea: through hard work, she overcomes adversity and achieves something that seems almost impossible: acceptance to Harvard University. Yet one could also argue that Liz’s philosophy of life, as presented here, is a little too idealistic—Liz succeeded, but she did so partly because of innate ability, luck, and the help of other people, not just because she was determined to make her own meaning. However, there’s no doubt that Liz’s life story is extraordinary, and she continues to inspire people around the world.