I think it’s fair to say that we have a collective metaphor of college graduation as a time when we cross the threshold into “real” life–working life, adulthood. The problem with this idea of “real” life is that it structures the notion of both time and living as linear–it presumes an official start to Life and Adulthood that simply do not exist. Having dabbled in said “real” life for several years now, I have become highly aware of the fact that living is anything but linear. Circular at best, but perhaps more zigzagy– lines of flight rather than circles. How one defines “real” life is, of course, highly subjective–financial independence, autonomy, starting one’s family, etc. Our real life is what we make it.
“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.” -Haruki Murakami
In a sense, the quote above represents the dangers and consequences of a live lived believing in a single threshold into “real” life. I completely agree with Murakami, that those people who live their lives around imagined certainties, who believe they’ve found The Answer or The Way are truly fearsome beasts indeed. I also understand that it is human nature to try and reduce risk and uncertainty in one’s life. I do it all the time and find I have to be very intentional about staying productively within the tensions that inform my every day experience. I’ve started thinking more and more of myself as a knowmad. Knowmad is a bit of a trite play on words, but it symbolizes something essential in how I want to live my life. The knowmad is a perpetual w[o|a]nderer. Someone who seeks out the in-between spaces, the tensions, someone dedicated to living a life of questions and inquiry rather than one of linear certitudes. It’s about living in such a way that each day brings a renewed opportunity and challenge to create a “real” life.
Which brings me to my adoration of commencement addresses. Commencement speeches deal with some of the important tensions and questions that come up when we are faced with the formidable challenge of creating our “real” life. As celebrated cultural figures share the insights and struggles they have encountered in creating their lives, we are reminded that designing one’s life is an ongoing quest and it gives us the opportunity to check in with ourselves, to question our beliefs and behaviors and challenge the definition and path of our lives. You can therefore imagine my excitement yesterday, when I discovered NPR’s new app The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever:
We are now in a golden age of the commencement speech as a hilarious, inspiring form of popular art. And to pay our respects to graduations past and present, NPR Ed and the NPR Visuals team have built a searchable, shareable database of over 300 commencement speeches dating back to 1774.
To help you explore this history, we tagged every speech with a few words that express its theme or take-home message. Here is a countdown of the dozen most popular tags — a tweet-length guide to life. Click on any tag to view all the corresponding speeches in our app.
I love the tags that they’ve created, which touch on topics dear to my heart and which I often write about here on rethinked …*
Source: What We Learned From The Best Commencement Speeches Ever via NPR, published May 19, 2014.
explore, question, rethink & create a “real” life worth living …*