There happens to be whole, large parts of adult American life that no one talks about in commencement speeches.
It’s the season for commencement speeches. A season I love, I keep a post-it note on my own computer from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address. The post-it note is faded and bent, worn and tired. But there’s rarely a day I don’t see it. I see it right now…
Advice at the moment of transitions in our lives is helpful, but rarely sinks past the skin at the moment we hear it. Sometimes it’s upon reflection and maturation that we look back and realize how much we value wisdom we’ve heard. It’s as if advice has to brew. It’s just this past year or so that I’ve really embodied the concept of “Be a willow, not an oak.” That was the message delivered at my older brother’s high school graduation. Clearly it struck me then, enough to remember it, but the advice only got heart-deep this past year, some 20+ years after I first heard it.
This 9-minute snippet from David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College (my beloved Alma Mater) is worth your time. I’ve listened to it three times in three days. I suggest this will change not only your day, but your year. This is the type of parenting advice I love most: it’s marketed as life advice, college-graduate advice, or advice for the young. Yet all the while it’s actually perfect for we frenzied, over-worked, tired, callous-handed parents. The monotony, the hard labor of caring for young children is rarely glamorized and never snags enough attention to make it worthy of a speech. I think David Foster Wallace’s wisdom is profound and on-point.
The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.
I am so thankful for the education I’ve had and so thankful for the teachers that support, enhance, enliven, and give my children perspective. This address is so relevant to anyone who has gone to school. Modest, humble advice on how to pay attention is something we can all use, all the time.
His message crested for me just before minute 7:
It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important– if you want to operate on your default settings. Then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred…on-fire with the same force that lit the stars. Love, fellowship…