Oh gosh, this is good: a few Kenyon College students recall David Foster Wallace’s commencement address.
There’s one line in particular that rings out like a bell (emphasis mine):
Mike L.: The one emotion I remember is intensity: he was clear, driving, and inwardly focused. He also didn’t say anything dismissively. Whether it was his technique or his real feeling I have no idea, but he read the speech like he was passing on a message of importance. Sitting here, I picture a guy at a radio in a bunker intercepting a message, then reading it off to someone else, wasting no time and enunciating every syllable.
What a vivid metaphor for good writing, good art. You’re down in the bunker, leaning in close, listening hard, repeating what you hear.
From Robert Krulwich’s 2011 commencement speech at UC-Berkeley’s Journalism School:
Some people when they look for a job in journalism ask themselves, What do I like to do and Who can take me there? Who can get me to a war zone? To a ballpark? To Wall Street? To politicians, to movie stars? Who’s got the vehicle? And you send them your resume and you say, “I want a seat in your car.” … And you wait.
But there are some people, who don’t wait.
I don’t know exactly what going on inside them; but they have this… hunger. It’s almost like an ache.
Something inside you says I can’t wait to be asked I just have to jump in and do it.
So for this age, for your time, I want you to just think about this: Think about NOT waiting your turn.
Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepeneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.
And when it comes to security, to protection, your friends may take better care of you than CBS took care of Charles Kuralt in the end. In every career, your job is to make and tell stories, of course. You will build a body of work, but you will also build a body of affection, with the people you’ve helped who’ve helped you back.
And maybe that’s your way into Troy.
This speech makes me want to run around the entire internet, giving a million high-fives.
(via @edyong209, who gets high-five #001)
In Twitter today — and I mean, like ten minutes ago — I got involved in a Twitter discussion with Matt Novak and Mat Honan about our memories of the Cold War. Matt was about six years old when it ended, Mat 17, I was 11, so we all had slightly different memories, but generally each recall the atmosphere of fear and dread we had then.
Mat Honan pointed out that 9/11/2001 hadn’t scared him the way it had many others because he’d grown up in the shadow of nuclear war. The spectacle of the destruction of whole cities, whole nations, is of a different order of magnitude than three-four unconventional attacks on American cities. It just is. Maybe the latter is actually more frightening, because it’s more concrete, in the same way that falling out of a roller coaster scares us more than dying of heart disease. The first one, you can see.
I remembered that I’d been thinking a lot about nuclear war in 2000–2001 — mostly how the threat had been gently fading for ten years, like a fingerprint on glass — and that I’d mentioned it in my very unusual commencement speech that I gave to Michigan State’s College of Arts & Letters in May 2001.
I’d already gotten my BA in Mathematics in the fall, and was finishing my second/dual degree in Philosophy, starting an MA program in Math that everyone knew I’d never finish. (Hey, they gave me a job teaching algebra that spring and that summer!)
I knew I wanted to be a professor, but didn’t know in what; I wrote some awful applications to philosophy programs in Berkeley, Princeton, and Chicago explaining that I was interested in Greek philosophy, Nietzsche, formal logic, and John Locke, which I’m sure pegged me as someone who had no idea what they wanted to do and no clear research program to pursue, and that was probably right. I was still waiting for the official rejection slip from Berkeley, trying to make up my mind whether I was going to split to Chicago for their consolation-prize Masters’ Program, stay in East Lansing and teach more math, or try to find real work.
Paul Gauguin, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
I was obsessed with T.S. Eliot and Gauguin, respectively; I wanted to go to Boston that summer to find out more about each of them, but blew out a tire on the way and never made it. I’d already written my commencement speech though. Here it is.
(And before you ask, yes—this is total Sloan-bait for him to post HIS speech that he gave the next year to the BIG room at MSU, assuming he can find it on his hard drive.)