We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Tuesday, May 21. 2013
Nobody in my family, or any of my friends' families, is graduating from college this year. I have a few high schools graduations to attend, but another month before that occurs.
Yet it is the commencement season. I was cruising the web recently and stumbled on two commentaries which I thought were excellent. One was a commencement speech redone as a 10 minute video. The other was from NPR which published snippets of graduation advice from economists. Both are linked here.
This video was based on a commencement speech from Kenyon College, several years ago. (my apologies, the original link was removed by the author's trust due to copyright issues, but the version I linked to does still work).
The letter to graduates (with link to original) is below the fold.
I particularly like the author's explanation of Economics, because I enjoy the subject. It's not about predicting things, and it's not about telling people how to make money. It can do both. Primarily it's about life and choices. Adam Smith was considered a philosopher, in his time.
The original is here.
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A friend of mine passed the Wallace clip my way not long ago, as a pretty fair rationale for what I do (which is indicated by my handle). I only wish more folks in my line of work tried to live up to it, rather than trying to intervene directly in the political agon.
Also, I wanted to let you know that I've added your agricultural enterprise to my blogroll. Feel free to drop in anytime. (I would have e-mailed you with this, but couldn't find a contact address.)
Imagine someone actually delivering this commencement address:
Saddly, no school would sit still for that commencement address.
I skipped both my graduation ceremonies from college. The first one I passed up for a long canoe trip in Minnesota and Canada, which was a much more enjoyable use of my time. The second I just couldn't be bothered with since I was anxious to report to work at my new job ASAP. No regrets. Commencement speeches are 99.44% BS.
THIS IS WATER is all wet. It's a talk I would have been happy to have missed. "The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about." What the h3ll does that mean? Well, it matters not one bit because my life has never been anything like the uninteresting, frustrating existence Wallace talked about. One of the keys I found to avoiding experiences like the ones he talked about was to make good choices in life. Like choosing an excellent wife. It also doesn't hurt to have very good health and a great deal of luck, that I will admit.
Choices are what "This is Water" is discussing.
Education gives you choices. You then get to choose how to live your life.
And that quote means, quite simply, that you have lived the kind of life he suggests most graduates avoid. Maybe this isn't for you, but it is for 90% of the students out there. My office is full of bored, and boring, young graduates simply because they live the kind of lifestyle the young man in the video lives.
"Choices are what "This is Water" is discussing"
I went back to view the video again with that in mind, but the link no longer works due to a copyright complaint from the Wallace Trust. I guess money is more important than the message. In any event, if education = OPTIONS, I wonder how many of today's underemployed college graduates still believe that when their only employment choice is whether they will work for Jack-in-the-Box or McDonald's while moving back in with Mom and Dad. Some things in life are beyond even an educated person's control.
Don't know what to say about the link....you do what you can. It was working this morning, guess they didn't like what the videographer did with it. Or, as you say, it's money related.
Nobody said that choices are always and everywhere perfect. But in a world where Jack-in-the-Box and other higher paying jobs are available, I suppose the high school dropout will have as many choices as the college grad? Obviously not.
The choices which DFW was referring to in "This is Water" are far beyond just "which job do I wish I had?" It is based on the ability to see beyond just what is in front of you. If the only job you feel qualified for, after a college degree, is a job at Jack-in-the-Box....well, then this video is for you, because clearly you didn't get much from that degree.
As my father always told me, and I tell my boys "you don't go to college to get a job, you go to get an education."
The video outlined that if you fall into a rut, and life's mindless daily grind begins to grate on you, then you've allowed everything you've learned to fall by the wayside. You have the ability to control your life, how you feel, how you react to things. And if you go negative because someone in the line in front of you is annoying you...well, what do you really know about them that might be causing them to annoy you?
But ultimately, sticking to your sole example of the types of jobs available to college grads, I respond - tough. Nobody says life is fair, and if your options are limited, only you are limiting them. Move to another place where jobs are plentiful. Go back and get another degree. Learn a new skill. Think long and hard about what you're good at and seek jobs in those fields.
Options are options, even if we don't like them. When you become educated, you have more options. IF you allow yourself to think about what you've got available to you.
I found a link to the full commencement address, which I read. Sorry, but I think there is much less---and yet much more---to this address than you ascribe to it. It is about choices (or options) in the life of the mind, about thinking, not about a life of action, about doing. This breaks with the tradition followed by most commencement speeches, which are invariably calls to action on the part of the graduates (which of course makes such speeches all of a pattern and so thoroughly trite). What I think you see here are the thoughts of someone who was suffering from depression. The talk is really about Wallace, a confession about his constant struggle to appreciate and savor life in the face of his severe mental illness. He eventually did commit suicide, as you probably know.
I simply encapsulated a portion in response to your original comment. I agree there is much more to this than meets the eye, though it's possible you think the "more" is related to DFW's depression and suicide.
That's possible, but even in depression and suicide, great artists have great insight. In a sense, their affliction is our gain (assuming they are able to carefully thread that needle and make what they are seeing and feeling available).
I see it as much more than I wrote because it's the primarily about the ability to realize that an education ISN'T a call to action (thus making most commencement speeches boring - mine was from Dan Rather and was rather boring, pun intended).
My view of this is that it's about the ability to do, feel, share and empathize, simply because you've presumably gotten an education and are capable of rational thought and reasonable query. All this provides the ability to choose from a broad swathe of capabilities - job, emotions, general activities.
A good friend of mine is a freelance writer. He basically lives hand to mouth. Whenever I'm in town, I take him out for dinner, sometimes more than once. He's remarkably intelligent, or was at some point. He is long past the point where he could've really done something with that intelligence. But he's where he is for one reason - he made the choice to NOT go the route which would have opened up more options to him.
To him, that was a life of drudgery. Offices and executives, responsibilities to others who manage your output, inability to live your life on your own terms (well, few of us are able of this, it's all a matter of degrees and what we feel we can manage). He felt what he viewed was 'standard' lifestyle was constraining and the 'freed' lifestyle of an independent writer had more potential and more options.
At first it did, but over time if you don't produce prodigiously, you get left behind. Today he still enjoys his life, but will wistfully say to me "You are successful." Not really, I'm not. But we all have different standards.
He and I have roughly the same education (same degree, same school, same age, roommates, etc.), yet we both exercised different options coming out of college, and the paths we chose diverged greatly.
I'm not saying my life is better, in some ways it isn't. But I do have 'more stuff' and I have traveled more, and I have the wife and kids he, at one time, wanted to have.
I look at my old friend and the DFW piece strikes me, if only for one reason. We left college with roughly the same opportunities, but we wound in vastly different places with vastly different current opportunities and vastly different outlooks on life.
We ARE our choices.
"We ARE our choices"
To be clear, I agree with you on that point, but that is the message of the commencement address YOU would given to the Kenyon graduates. It is NOT the one Wallace gave. What it comes down to, I think, is that you would have made a better choice as the commencement speaker than Wallace.
My own opinion is that the habit of making choices throughout your life is learned from parents, not from educators; it is ingrained before you go to college and is perhaps the very reason you went to college. An education gives you a variety of "tools" for making choices, but the inner drive to make them originates within a strong family life and upbringing. I admit I was lucky: I couldn't have chosen better parents than I had.
That IS how I would have concluded DFW's speech - but it's not mine to end.
But you did say in your last response exactly what he was alluding to. That your toolset expands in college. This allows you to make more and different choices. Not necessarily better ones. The ability to make better ones comes from the source YOU pointed to - parents.
Either way, judging by the content of your comments, we're arguing the same point from different angles. Neither is directly opposed to the speech itself.
I don't get it. Was the guy trying to find bottled water in the grocery store?