Thoughts on David Foster Wallace’s Speech Delivered to the Graduates of Kenyon College in 2005

     “Why don’t you try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes?” we’ve all been told. Practically since I was a young toddler I’ve been told to always think not just of myself but to try to understand and be considerate to others. But is this so simple. I mean how hard could it be to think of someone else for a change?

     With this in mind, David Foster Wallace brings out a poignant point in his graduation speech. His unique perspective is filled with his sincere passion and earnesty. He eloquently molds his true emotions through various analogies and imagery. He yearns to warn us of the values he has discovered through his life that we often take for granted or disregard. One such value that, in his opinion, could be between the crossroads of a life full of valuable, unregrettable worth or a life full of naive, unfulfilling ignorance.

     Wallace is talking about freedom. Not the freedom of being able to walk to the store without having to go through lines of security or having the right to learn how to ride a unicycle just for the fun of it. But TRUE freedom. The freedom “to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day” as Wallace says. This freedom seems so obvious. It’s just like the Golden Rule “treat others as you would want to be treated.” So there. I’ll do this for you and then you’ll do this for me. Right? Well, this is where we get off the tracks slightly. Although we may be doing “good deeds,” when was the last time that we actually sincerely did something for someone else, without the tiniest bit of personal incentive? A time when our whole heart, mind, and soul was genuinely directed to the one in need. As Wallace illustrates, we all struggle with this problem or are utterly unaware. Wallace himself finds that he often has difficulty or just plain apathy toward trying to understand others when his own agony is buffeting his own life.

     I was personally moved by Wallace’s speech. It had never really hit me that we could be living to the extent Wallace describes. In many instances it does seem as though I believe that “I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence” as described by Wallace. Maybe not straight out but I often feel that deep down I have these conceited feelings. Of course I have always worked hard to suppress such ideas with all my might whenever they often appear. I try to make myself believe that I’m lacking or that I’m normal but the end is inevitable. I guess it’s just part of our nature. We live and see through the tunnel vision that contributes much of our perspectives, thoughts, conclusions, and practically our lives. It is not very surprising though. A lot of our lives are really based on how we see ourselves or how we compare ourselves to others. However, if we continue to live this way, our futures are quite bleak and devoid of the true pulchritude of life.

     But wait! There’s hope! It definitely won’t be easy, but we can attempt to discover and master the freedom Wallace describes, one step at a time. I truly believe in what Wallace puts simply…

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over.”

Our natures do not rigidly define who we are. Our actions, passion, compassion, perseverance, willingness, and humility do.

 

http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf