Author of NYT Best Seller Book and Professor of English
Syracuse University, May 11 2013
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
George Saunders’s graduation speech transcript was posted on the New York Times website. Reportedly it is set out to become a book.
“Err in the direction on kindness”.
– George Saunders.
So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, shares its fruits tirelessly.
George Saunders’s graduation speech reminded me of another great commencement address on a similar theme of staying present and the importance of awareness, given by the iconic writer, David Foster Wallace.