It is mid-April and traditionally this is the time we look forward to graduations, weddings, taking a new step in our lives. David Foster Wallace gave only one commencement address in his foreshortened life. I say only one, but I was surprised to learn he gave one at all. It was to Kenyon University, a small private liberal arts college in Ohio, in 2005. He died in 2008.
Who among us believes we become adults or fully-realized humans the day we receive our diploma? So the commencement speech given by DFW is entirely appropriate to point us toward the new goals we have in our future. Not just how to think, but what to think about.
DFW tells us tiny parables that highlight his message. The first one, about the fish in the water, I will ever associate with him. Two fish swimming together one day encounter an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. “How’s the water?” the older fish asks. DFW suggests we do not become unconscious to what is all around us. One needs to keep one’s awareness close and one’s judgments at a distance. So simple, so thought-provoking.
It’s a short book, probably the shortest ever with his name on the cover. But it gives us a sense of the man and his prescription for living a fulfilling life. One only wishes he could have been able to do that, too.
You can buy this book here: