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Ten Commencement Speakers You Wish You'd Had

Ten Commencement Speakers You Wish You'd Had

Liz Dwyer | GOOD Magazine

9. Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary, 2004: Stewart headed back to his alma mater and delivered a classically funny, self-deprecating speech with lines like “In 1981 I lost my virginity, only to gain it back again on appeal in 1983” and “You could say that my one saving grace was academics where I excelled, but I did not.”

Stewart then went on to declare his faith in this generation, and shared how after 9/11 he was depressed and had lost hope, until “one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, ‘You know what, we’re gonna be OK.’”

10. David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College, 2005: Wallace gave one of the most beloved commencement speeches a mere three years before his tragic suicide. The speech refreshingly leaves the commencement address script and addresses the reality of life and our inner motivations:

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Liz is GOOD’s education editor. She taught in Guangzhou, China and Compton, California, and worked for Teach For America. She’s written for Good Housekeeping, Parenting and numerous online publications.

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