On May 21, 2005, David Foster Wallace starts his address to the graduating class of Kenyon College by making an analogy about three fish passing by one another. The older fish throws a comment out to the two younger “How’s the water?” (Wallace 1) to which the younger two fish pose the question, “What the hell is water?” (Wallace 1) In explanation of said story, Wallace interprets it by saying “The point of the fish story is […] the most obvious […] realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” (Wallace 1)
An abundance of Wallace’s speech is him presenting different stories and analogies about knowledge being not “the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.” (Wallace 1) Wallace goes on with another moral story about the “banal platitudes” of the adult life explaining if you don’t consciously choose what and how you’re going to think about a thing you’re going to be “pissed and miserable” (Wallace 1) On further expanding that thought, David states “there are totally different ways to think[…]” (Wallace 1) Wallace’s speech centers around “[…]the freedom of real education is[…] you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.” (Wallace 1)
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Wallace shifts, telling a story about two men in a bar debating over the existence of God. One of the men is an Atheist, while the other man is religious. Both of the men have a “blind certainty” in their beliefs, which is what Wallace says the men’s problem is. Magnifying that thought, Wallace goes on stating “closed-mindedness […] amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.” (Wallace 1) He says “you decide what to believe” also reinforcing that you also decide how to think.
Wallace continues, urging the critical analysis of what and how you think, giving the example it is “basic self-centeredness” (Wallace 1) to think of yourself as the “absolute center of the universe. (Wallace 1) Wallace explains that, to critically analyze your thoughts you must break “free of [your] natural, hard wired default setting.” (Wallace 1) which is to see everything through “the lens of self”
Wallace ends his speech with a statement on the critical analysis of what and how you think and keeping an open mind saying it is hard to “stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.” (Wallace 1)
Wallace, David Foster. “Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address- May 21, 2005.” Kenyon College Graduation Ceremony. Kenyon College Gambien, OH. 21 May 2005. Commencement Address.