In case you need the link to what I’m talking about, here it is: http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes! This speech is something different—something special. After seventeen grueling years of schooling, you’ve finally graduated from college and you’re at your graduation ceremony, thinking you’re prepared to maneuver through the rest of your life, and BAM! A commencement speaker completely annihilates your concept of life, inaugurating fears you’ve never even considered. Of course, the commencement speaker doesn’t do this in an outright manner. They’re quite passive about it, actually. But the message is almost always the same: yes, good job, you’ve graduated. I’m sure your parents are proud but you’re now a menace to society because you know nothing….don’t mess this up because this is the only chance you’ve got…yada, yada, yada. I live in College Station. I’ve been to plenty of graduation ceremonies. Reading David Wallace Foster’s speech at first glance, I was a little irritated. Another one of these stupid semi-motivational, semi-paralyzing speeches? Really AP teachers? Really. Alas, I was wrong. While Foster isn’t innocent of these sins, he does give advice useful to people of any age. He does not forget that every meaningful person was once a young grasshopper.
“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a, slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.” AMEN. Someone finally said it! I’ve had enough of the little didactic stories, Foster. I’m here for the real message. And what Foster hits on here is very real. Even now, at my ripe age of sixteen, I find myself trapped on a road leading towards a life of monotony. Living a little every day. Dying a lot more every day. It’s hard when you’re young. No one takes you seriously when you say you’re tired, or depressed, or if you “can’t even.”
#whitegirls As someone who has struggled with depression for years, I get a little tired of hearing people’s attempts to sympathize. Just think happy thoughts. You’ll be fine. Life isn’t that bad. But this speech made me rethink about what these nuisances have been telling me for all these years. Maybe…I can…change the way I think…? As Foster puts it himself, “If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable.” All along I’ve thought that I was the one caught up with reality, viewing it in its truest form. I’ve always assumed that no one has understood me. I knew too much about life for my own good. But perhaps I was the one left out of the loop of happiness for good reason; I have refused to work a little harder for the joy I’ve always assumed life owes me. It has always been easier to revert to the hell I’ve created for myself in my mind rather than thinking a little harder more blithely. I know I’m not the only one with this struggle with dynamic thinking. After all, this speech wouldn’t have been written in such a candid way if it didn’t apply to the majority of people sitting in Kenyon College’s graduating class of 2005. We all have the power to influence our attitudes. Whether we accept the responsibility of it or not, of course, is the gray matter Foster is targeting.
Religion. A topic I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of by any means, but I’m certainly not ready to argue my way through it, especially while living in good ol’ College Station. The common concept of religion around here is Christianity, Christianity, Christianity, and those other kids over there. This is not necessarily the concept of religion David Wallace Foster is talking about. We’re talking about the blatant belief in some power. A power. The belief that something greater than ourselves exists. I get it. It’s the same situation as my own. It’s easier for us to put the blame of the bad things on someone else. God is making me stronger through this struggle. Allah is giving me a chance to prove myself as worthy. Joseph Smith will give me a planet if I get through this one. Okay, sorry. That one was uncalled for. Anyways, I can see why so many people believe in a power of sorts. Even though I think every theist kind of knows at least a little bit that paradise is a fairly inconclusive and a rather subjective promise for the end of our lives, I still understand why they choose to believe. Foster points out that this bargaining for the promise of happiness is “the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.” Just I as I choose only to see the dark side of every situation, people sometimes only see the optimistic sides of situations in an effort to earn their way to a plausible heaven. It’s easier not to face reality: the here and now.
David Wallace Foster made my day today. Positive thinking. No, not even that. Mindfulness. Yes, that’s the word. I have the power. We all have the power. It’s (somewhat) a choice to be happ(ier)y. I guess he was just as tired of the normal commencement speech as I am. I don’t need to hear about facing reality as if I’m a happy-go-lucky dandy little kid. Foster knows just as well as I do that both the optimist and pessimists in that crowd—in the crowd of life, if you will–have to come to terms with the reality of our power as humans, as civilians, as comrades to each other. If we do not choose to think in a way that benefits ourselves psychologically, then there’s no way we can expect to benefit society as a whole, if that’s really what we’re going for after all.