Update: Jonathan Safran Foer published an adapted version of his Middlebury commencement address in the Sunday New York Times’ opinion pages (Midd gets cred at the bottom). It will be out in print tomorrow.
When we heard Jonathan Safran Foer was going to be the commencement speaker for the class of 2013 we rejoiced, predicting a great address. And, in our opinion, high expectations were met. He made fun of Ron Liebowitz (the first four minutes are priceless–be sure to check out Liebowitz’s facial expressions), eloquently tackled perhaps the issue of our generation–technology and social networking–and how it affects experience and memory, confronted human mortality, and highlighted what is most important and meaningful about being human. It’s a speech that stands on its own, whose wisdom hopefully will be spread beyond Middlebury’s campus. Here is the end of his speech, our favorite part:
Most of the time most people aren’t crying in public but everyone is always in need of something another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word, or deep empathy. There is no better use of one’s life than to respond to those needs. There are as many ways to this as there are kinds of loneliness but all of them require presence. All of them require the will to do the necessary hard work of human computing, of making the choice to engage, of struggling with language, of risking getting it wrong, of discarding shell and making the empathic leap. This is the work of being human. It can be messy and painful and almost impossibly difficult, but it is not something that we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. And it is beautiful.
Preceding him was Bronwyn Oatley ’13 who did a beautiful job riffing on George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” She highlighted ‘unreasonable’ achievements of Midd students like the Solar Decathlon house and ‘unreasonable’ struggles overcome during the past four years like dealing with a mental illness while at Middlebury. She also praised the Middlebury community as a space for personal exploration and growth, using her own story of coming out as an example. Finally, she worked in some jokes about neti pots at Parton and the Campus being the only source for compelling news on campus (HAHAHA). Here it is in case you missed it:
We’ve heard that a certain film and media prof thought Safron Foer’s speech was “shallow technophobia” so clearly not everyone was as pumped about it as we were. Comment with your thoughts, agree with us, bring us down to earth, let us know your favorite quote from either speech.