“The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
David Foster Wallace
Those words are from Wallace’s commencement speech given in 2005. The entire text is one of the most moving (and inspiring) things I’ve ever read (especially knowing that Wallace ultimately lost his internal war with depression). It’s about 3000 words — maybe a 15-minute read.
I can’t tell you who spoke at my college graduation. Nothing against them, I’m sure it was me. Had Wallace been our speaker and given the same talk, I probably would have missed it because of my attitude at the time. (I wonder how many of those students heard and thought about what Wallace said that day.)
We have just over 3 million college degrees being given out this year in the U.S. I’m assuming (hoping) that the largest portion of them will start working and contributing to the needs of our world (people). I hope they’re Smovers.
At the same time, I hope we (the grown-ups?) remember to encourage them to do what’s right, work hard, and care. They’ll need it (though they might not want it) and it’s our job as grown-ups.
Below are my 3 favorite commencement speeches. Pass one or all of them along to someone who’s graduating (this year or 3 years from now). Help them become more aware… earlier. Make sure you read them first (you might find Wallace’s to be too harsh). Then be sure to follow up. Sit down and ask them what they think. Then listen. Then have a conversation.
This Is Water : David Foster Wallace, Writer
Find What You Love : Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. Cofounder
The Love of Learning : David McCullough, Writer and lecturer