Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two Commencement Speeches, No Sunscreen

I was a little suspicious when ex-"aw-shucks-you'll-be-back-no-I-won't-yes-you-will-no-I-am-done"blogger OTP forwarded me a link to a commencement speech.

Some of you will understand. Back in 1997, I developed violent feelings towards people who forwarded me commencement speeches, especially one featuring the word "sunscreen". NYT (and even Kurt Vonnegut) found the speech funny, but I thought it was pure Anne Freaking Geddes. (Never mind that it was not actually a commencement speech and - big relief - was not written by Kurt Vonnegut.)

So why did OTP forward me a commencement speech, I asked myself. Was she turning soft? Would she be posting song lyrics on her blog next? Judging from her blog, I had always found her bullshit detector to be keen and fine-tuned. So I gave it a second thought, suppressed my violent feelings and read the commencement speech she sent me.
"...It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience."
The stuff wasn't bad at all. In fact, the speech was pretty good. One of those speeches that you wish you had heard at 21. (But as I later told OTP, if I had heard this speech at 21, I would probably have left the room with a loud snicker and a dismissive wave of the hand.)

You can read the full transcript of David Foster Wallace's speech here. Some very interesting ideas in there and no mention of sunscreen.

(Space Bar: echoes of JK's lectures about the meaning of education?)

It is some coincidence that my (only) favorite commencement speech was also delivered to graduates of Kenyon College, back in 1990, by cartoonist Bill Watterson. Everyone knows him for "Calvin and Hobbes". This is the same man who, at the peak of his career, famously decided to call it quits. Here's a terrific excerpt from Mr. Watterson's address:
"Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth."
Link to the speech. Again, great ideas, no sunscreen.

BTW, it's going to be bright and warm and sunny all this long weekend and I plan to be outdoors as much as possible. What is that one thing I will need the most? That's right. Lots of Tabasco.


Space Bar said...

s I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head

I would never have known that when I was 20 or thereabouts. Despite K and everything.

Thanks (also to OTP) for this - it was just what I needed to read right now.

One Trick Pony said...

is good no? felt compelled to pass it along.

Tabula Rasa said...

dang. i read this and thought otp was backs again. but she isn't. otp bumps.