For our Monday motivation:

What do I do when I know hard times are coming, and it’s out of my control? I watch my favorite commencement speeches because of the tone they set. Mondays, like graduations, are a kind of beginning. An ultimate sort of a challenge for us, because it’s time. It’s time to succeed. Now or never! Just put your best foot forward! You’ve got to go for it!

Right. And that always sounds so convincing to me coming from someone on the sidelines not currently facing those challenges. So I’ve learned to let that noise go, and listen to my heroes. Someone facing a significant challenge. Hopefully they have more success and failure than I do because that’s wisdom. I have a list of commencement speeches that I review when I need wisdom and perspective beyond my peer group.

David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech affectionately known as “This is Water” is my personal goad to a higher perspective. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

However, Wallace’s star shined to brightly, and, like Icarus, he fell, and was lost. Does his work die with him? Not for me. No. Wallace was able to express the Nihilism we all feel in a way I’ve never experienced elsewhere. I weep for him, as I weep for all of us. The challenge is too great, but “This is Water”.

Jim Carrey’s commencement speech is also brilliant for different reasons. Where Wallace is a sop for our suffering, Carry entreats us to find a way to laugh at the pain. Carrey’s life of expression is vastly different from Wallace’s. If you don’t know what I mean, just compare Fire Marshall Bill with A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Just try. A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again may not look funny on the surface, but it was deeply ironic to me, and I laughed a lot. Out loud. Irony. Let’s not forget irony, because life is ironic and that should make us laugh and cry at the same time.

Now that’s a perspective that allows me to charge into the breach, and face the unknown with courage! If I were to distill the message of both of these speeches down to a few words it would be “renounce and enjoy”. Those are the same words Ghandi used as his personal mantra… more on this later, because it’s Monday. So get on with it, and we’ll figure out what it all means later.

Renounce and Enjoy

Some of my other favorite commencement speeches by people you may recognize:

Steve Jobs – FYI Steve Jobs was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer just before this speech.
Mr Rogers – My generations real, unseen mentor.

What’s your favorite commencement speech?

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