Back in 2005, David Foster Wallace gave the commencement speech at Kenyon College (Here is a link to it- http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf) I would encourage you to at least skim it before reading  my response.

From Wallace’s first anecdote, I can tell that he is not delivering a typical commencement speech. Instead of sticking with his liberal arts cliches, he takes a fresh perspective. Although still based on what the students’ newfound education can do for their thought, Wallace explains how an education doesn’t just teach people how to think, but lets them controll their thought process and decide how they think about each situation.

In my mind, his speech seemed to be about how controlling your thoughts leads to more virtuous and accepting behavior, but Wallace repeadedly said that he was not preaching on religion or morals. Even if he didn’t want the audience to think of him as a preacher, Wallace definitely conveyed a powerful message on thinking about the world in a more religious way- to not put yourself at the center of everything and realize that you have no reason to be angry at those around you. This, he said, was the greatest benifit of a liberal arts education.

Although Wallace most definitely  inspired those graduates through his insightful speech, some of it I cannot help but consider false.  For example, realizing what the “water” which surrounds us in our everyday lives really is and truly controlling how and what we think about can be the products of an education, but rarely are. Usually, control over our own minds results from a conscious decision we make to think about all the sides of an argument, not just our own. Those Alaskans Wallace mentions were not lacking an education, they were lacking the personal initiative to consider what the other was saying. After realizing this, I found the speech more compelling than ever because it did not only apply to liberal arts graduates, but to myself and the rest of the world as well.


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