David Foster Wallace Knew Why Commencement Speeches Suck

by Matt on September 19, 2008

in Miscellany

How funny that commencement speeches are almost always boring. Except for the rare occasion, you get riled up and excited (or furious that LAST year they got BILL COSBY and THIS YEAR we get the MAYOR I mean COME ON did they even TRY? - but that, too, is tied to each class’s sense of entitlement to a brash, dashing, exciting speaker). This is the end of college, your victory day. Graduation. You *did* it. Only the speech is the rhetorical equivalent to breakfast cereal. It’s either dull or uselessly saccharine, and never as exciting as the packaging promised. About halfway through the speech, you slump in your chair and realize graduating college is not a thrilling event. You aren’t unleashed onto the world. You’re cast into it, ostracized from the debaucherous Never Never Land of College U. Your four years of themed parties (which all boil down to guys in boxers and girls in schoolgirl outfits), staying up all night to argue the difference between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Neutral, and in general being surrounded by aspiring people of infinite potential, all end with someone who has allegedly “achieved” something that you suspect was less fun than cramming fourteen people into a Camry to go to Taco Bell.

This is why commencement speeches invariably disappoint, and why the late David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Commencement Speech is so breathtaking.

Hm, perhaps that’s a poor choice of words, which DFW would have enjoyed pointing out. So I’ll leave it be.


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