This Is Water
By Rachel Revelle
Commencement season is upon us and with it comes the usual musings over commencement addresses. To think how many are delivered each year is rather astounding. Some make headlines – which major figures are speaking at which university? – others are at the tiniest little K-12 schools that no one outside the county or local athletic conference has ever heard of. But every school has one, and they are a moment of significance for that particular community. They may or may not be remembered. But I think they are a valid act of acknowledgement.
They are also a useful exercise – for the writer, the audience, and potential future readers. Stop at a transition point. Think about what matters. Express in some way that resonates.
Maybe you didn’t think yours was very important, or were too sleepy or distracted to pay attention to it, but if you went back to a script there may be echoes that matter more now. Or maybe not. But we have also established that there is a tremendous body of material that constitutes the commencement address. There are no doubt countless lists. I found this archive and enjoyed perusing. I also appreciated the introduction to the collection of speeches: “as we graduate from one year to another, one relationship to another, one experience to another – we always are learning. Though these myriad departures and arrivals of everyday existence are seldom met with ceremony, words traditionally reserved for momentous occasions may ring true and inspirational at any hour.”
“These myriad departures and arrivals of everyday existence” are exactly what are discussed in the speech that has been my inspiration in this hour: David Foster Wallace’s address to Kenyon College in 2005. What I most want to say is simply, read it. It is real and true and in touch with the unassuming day-to-day. But as he explains, that’s where life happens; that’s when we have to decide how we’re going to see the world. That’s where we have to have “awareness of what is real and essential.” As another of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, says in her book Bird by Bird, “there Is ecstasy in paying attention.”
So in this commencement season, hopefully the celebrations in which you take part will be inspirational. Pay attention. To the inspirational day and to the day-to-day that follows. This is water. This is water.