Graduation season is fast approaching, the time of the year when some of our favorite writers (and notable figures in film, media, business, and politics) are tasked with summing up the lessons learned and the wisdom to be accrued from the process of growing up in ten succinct minutes of witty truth. These days, a successful graduation speech has the very real chance of going viral, and then living forever as a book: from David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life to Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art, the best graduation speeches are finding a new life. This crop includes the brand new Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by noted author George Saunders, a pretty-in-print encapsulation of his 2013 Syracuse Graduation speech on “kindness.”
It’s reason enough to collect 30 of the best, wisest, and pithiest pieces of advice from the greatest writers to attempt the graduation speech. Here are some of our favorites (and yes, Wallace, Gaiman, and Saunders are included).
“Do all the other things, of course, 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 them 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 towards 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 that it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits timelessly.”