The benefits of failures, finding what you love, choosing what to think about, and being kind
If you Google “Best commencement speeches,” you’ll find a list of very recognizable names. Names like Steve Jobs, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Winston Churchill, George Saunders, Oprah Winfrey, and, of course, the much applauded David Foster Wallace address at Kenyon College.
In 20-minute addresses these great innovators, thinkers, and writers attempt to inspire graduates to “find what you love,” “be responsible,” “be your own story,” and “become kinder.”
In his speech, Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace said the freedom of real education and learning to be well-adjusted is consciously deciding what has meaning and what doesn’t.
He said, “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you can not or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
We hope our PHS graduates will find the the following speeches something to rely on after your final student walk on the campus Saturday.
“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
(University of the Arts in Philadelphia, 2012)
“So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would. And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”
(Syracuse University, 2013)
“Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.
Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s.
Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”