My search for my favorite commencement address of the year has happily come to a successful conclusion. Author Jonathan Safran Foer delivered the address at the 2013 commencement ceremony at Middlebury College. It is a wonderful talk about how our personal technologies are diminishing us.
I learned of the address when reading Foer’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, which he based on the address. The essay was great; but the address is better.
Here are a few quotes from the address:
“Technology celebrates connectedness, but it encourages retreat.”
“Simply put, the more distracted we become and the more emphasis we put on speed at the expense of depth, the less able we are to care.”
“Each step forward in technological communication has made things more convenient. But each step has also made it easer, just a little bit easier, to avoid the emotional work of being present. To write ‘LOL’ rather than to actually laugh out loud; to send a crying emoji rather than actually crying; to convey information rather than humanity. It’s never been easier to say nothing.”
“It’s easier to friend someone than to be someone’s friend. It’s easier to like things than to love them. It’s easier to say nothing, but people who become used to saying nothing become used to being nobody.”
“I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.”
So here is the best commencement address I have heard this year, presented by Wellesley High School English teach David McCullough. His speech is reprinted in the Boston Globe at http://bit.ly/KUlGa1.
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
I enjoy listening to college commencement addresses. A lot of them — perhaps most of them — are just a a string of cliches. But occasionally I come across a real gem. I had the pleasure of hearing Anna Quindlen at the Kenyon College graduation of 2008. She was wonderful This year she gave the commencement address at Grinnell College.(Transcript.) It is well worth a listen.
J.K. Rowlings delivers the commencement address at Harvard University in 2008.
J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.
Read the text here.
Sir Ken Robinson gave this year’s commencement address at the Rhode Island School of Design. While it is available on YouTube, the version on RISD’s website (http://our.risd.edu/2009/06/02/sir-ken-robinson/) is much better. Robinson is a passionate critic of our education system for its failure to teach creative thinking.
Update: The RISD website does not appear to have the video of Sir Ken’s speech. You can find it here on Youtube: