It’s getting to be the end of graduation season, and I have been checking out this year’s speeches, thinking I would post my favorite. But it turns out the one I want to post is nine years old, the late David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005.
“It’s hard to stay alert and attentive,” Wallace tells the audience.
Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
The gift of a liberal arts education is “simple awareness,” Wallace says, “awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us.…”