David Foster Wallace’s Extraordinary Commencement Address at Kenyon College

I like listening to commencement addresses. Well, some commencement addresses. Most, of course, seem to be filled with cliches and banalities that will never be remembered and don’t deserve to be. But the rite of passage that is commencement on occasion is marked by extraordinary speeches that convey profound and timeless thoughts. Such is the case with David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to the Kenyon College Class of 2005. I missed it by only a year. My son graduated from Kenyon in 2006. His commencement speaker was Senator John Kerry. Senator Kerry’s presence on the dais had special meaning for the Class of 2006, for in the 2004 election Kenyon students overwhelmed the voting apparatus, showing up in such numbers that the polls had to remain open until the wee hours of the morning. Kenyon graduates were proud of that, and rightfully so. But today, I remember none of what Senator Kerry had to share that day.A few years later, while on a tour of east coast colleges with my daughter, I came across a little book in the Dartmouth College Bookstore called “This Is Water.” It was an essay based on David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address. The subtitle describes the central theme of the address: “Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion about Living a Compassionate Life.” I have read it several times.Today, in searching for new commencement addresses to add to my favorites list, I came across a recording of David Foster Wallace’s address. What a pleasure to hear him deliver the speech. It is right at the top of my list. Here are links to the speech, in two parts. I commend it to you.Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5THXa_H_N8&feature=youtube_gdata_player Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSAzbSQqals&feature=youtube_gdata_player