Friday, July 01, 2005

Commencement Addresses

There can't be too many tasks more challenging than commencement addresses -- a lecture to people who are celebrating the end of listening to lectures. Still, the last word can be the most memorable, so it's worth reaching high.

I blogged last month about Steve Jobs' entreaty to Stanford's student to find what they love and not to settle for less. Via Dave Rogers' excellent Groundhog Day blog I found another good one by writer David Foster Wallace, who turns the usual platitude about college "teaching you how to think" on its head.

"The really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about,'' Wallace tells Kenyon University graduates in May. You have to choose whether to make the effort to think outside yourself, to fight against arrogance and the urge to turn off your mind and settle for prejudice and conventional "wisdom." And that extends to what religion you choose, he says:
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.
A good read. You can find out more about Wallace here. The full transcript of the speech is here.

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