America’s colleges have already selected impressive graduation speakers this year, but it’s going to be hard for even Tim Cook and Samantha Power to outshine history’s greatest commencement speech.
Although the choice is obviously subjective in nature, we noticed one speech that repeatedly makes various “Best Commencement Speeches” lists.
The late novelist David Foster Wallace gave a speech at Kenyon College in 2005 that topped most of these lists. Wallace — a graduate of the elite liberal arts college Amherst — told students that a liberal arts education teaches them how to be self-aware and how to think.
A liberal arts education, Wallace said, teaches you “to be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties.”
“Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out,” he added, “totally wrong and deluded.”
Harkening back to his original assertion that their education taugh them how to think, Wallace said, “The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.”
You can listen to the entirety of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech here:
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