Sunday, June 2, 2013

Commencement speeches.

Like a good oped, the best commencement speeches, in my opinion, are the honest ones. Not the ones meant to be political or self promoting, not the ones that tell me what I want to hear. The ones that come from crusty and well earned experiences. Not necessarily the most glamorous ones.

Now that I am reading Infinite Jest, it makes this speech all the more wonderful to read. I love the voices that he is able to use and communicate ideas that really get inside your head and heart. Naturally,   I have to include David Foster Wallace's This is Water from the 2005 Kenyon Commencement address.  Funny, mere days after I read this for the first time, I had an argument about race and privilege with a man who used to teach a seminar series at Yale. This is Water was the opener to my argument.

This speech, Fail Safe by Debbie Millman, is deliciously honest about the choices that we make along our adventures. I loved it, because it reminds me how often we find ourselves mid thought as we move through our lives and make decisions based on our guts and whatever other information we decide to let in. How often I have made decisions purely based on my strong instinctual reactions to things... and for me, that has been great. I had an excellent college experience, made some really close friends, taken on some great projects and found my ways of being happy. Even when everything else felt like Chaos.

I don't have a transcript, by one of my dear friends appears in this video alongside Mayor of Newark Cory Booker in his Yale 2013 Class Day speech. I really enjoyed how much his talk and President Levin's talk during Baccalaureate centered around activism and participating in the world around us. This is what I had been hoping to hear for years at Yale -- take on responsibility, have a stake in your community, and work on interesting problems.

And, in the same vein, I was pleased to hear that Oprah was talking about immigration reform and gun control at the Harvard 2013 commencement ceremony.

I was also digging the line from the Soledad O'Brien speech at Harvard 2013 that my mom clipped out of the newspaper to save for me:

“Do not listen to others people’s take on the life you should lead,” O’Brien told the audience of seniors, families, and friends gathered in Tercentenary Theatre today for the Class Day ceremony. “By not listening, you can figure out what your heart is telling you to do.”

“People can be mean and unfair, but more—far, far more—people are good and generous and helpful and hopeful,” she declared, adding, “That means you are going to have to lead with an open heart. And it also means that that little heart is going to get stomped on a few more times than you would like.”

(requoted from Harvard Magazine)

And perhaps, a more directed version of this advice, came to me from a mentor figure that I was lucky enough to find this semester. We could not be more different -- this professor finds my research fascinating, "fringe" and proof that my brain is an "unusual place."

He said to me, on the last evening that we sat down for a 2 hour talk about what the hell comes next for me...

You have an unusual mind. The road that you have picked and will pick will never be easy, because you are not traditional. You will always be questioned and you will always be alone. You will find allies, but they are not going to be in your head. It is beautiful and terrible at the same time. But you can and will do it.

As if there could be a better introduction into the world, than having someone you admire tell you to go out and do your thing, whatever that may be. 

Good luck!

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