Beyond "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

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Beyond "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

Commencement speeches by popular authors for your graduate

It’s almost summer, and graduation is just around the corner for many. Oh, the Place You’ll Go! will be bought for many grads, and with good reason. It encourages achievement on your terms, while letting you know that sometimes you will failwe all do. There’s no shame in it.

But sometimes you want something else. This is a collection of commencement speeches delivered by some of my favorite authors. I think these speeches double as good life advice. Most of these I’ve read more than once. I’m attracted to bits of wisdom that let you know that failure is OK. In these achievement-heavy times, I don't think everyone understands that.

Gaiman has some thoughts for artists, musicians, and writers. He encourages you to make art, to do things differently, to follow your own muse. In the process of enriching your life, you enrich the lives of others, as well as the world.

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion About Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace
Empathy is a major topic in this essay. Wallace writes about rewiring your thinking, and being self-centered. On being the center of the universe, he writes: It is our default-setting, hardwired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. He then encourages each of us to consider our neighbors and their struggles when we can. He is also not overly didactic about it; he talks about us and not you. It’s a fast read and a powerful one. I go back to it every couple of years.

Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders
I’m a big fan of George Saunders's writing. He has the ability to be funny, sad and ridiculous all in one story. Here, he is warm and inspiring. He encourages the interconnectedness that most of us desire, but find difficult to achieve. It’s a thing that is both easy and difficult to obtain.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
Rowling discusses the importance of failure. For many, it’s the best teacher. We must strive for what we want to achieve, and not let the fear of failure hold us back. Embrace failure. All of us will fail at something. Rather than letting it bring you down, use it as a teacher and improve. She also discusses the importance of imagination as part of not being bound by failure.

The World is Waiting for You: Graduation Speeches to Live by From Activists, Writers, and Visionaries
There are 18 speeches in this book. They cover such topics as justice, protest and peace. Wynton Marsalis, Barbara Kingsolver, and Toni Morrison are among the speakers included here; however, I chose this collection for the Ursula K Le Guin talk. She speaks to a roomful of graduates, who are graduating from a women’s college. She decides to  “speak aloud in public in the language of women.” This is not an attempt to exclude anyone. In the next sentence, she says, “I know there are men graduating, and I don’t mean to exclude them, far from it.”
She goes on to offer advice and hope for the women present. Although it is a man’s world, you shouldn’t give up and play their game, she says. Do what you do. The world needs more of that, not more machismo. “I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated.” I can think of no better words to live by.