Brain Pickings

David Foster Wallace’s Timeless Graduation Speech on the Meaning of Life, Adapted in a Short Film


“The real value of a real education … has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”

On May 21, 2005, David Foster Wallace got up before the graduating class of Kenyon college and delivered one of history’s most memorable commencement addresses. It wasn’t until Wallace’s death in 2008 that the speech took on a life of its own under the title This Is Water, and was even adapted into a short book. Now, the fine folks of The Glossary have remixed an abridged version of Wallace’s original audio with a sequence of aptly chosen images to give one pause:

UPDATE: The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust exemplifies everything that’s wrong with copyright law. What a shame, this travesty of cultural legacy.

The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude. But the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life-or-death importance.

Hear the full speech in its sublime entirety, along with transcript and highlights, here, then wash it down with Wallace on ambition and why writers write.

Thanks, Matt

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