Time Magazine calls David Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech to the graduates of Kenyon College the best commencement speech ever given. I’ve been a fan since a friend emailed it to me a few years ago and since then I’ve returned to it a couple times a year and shared it with lots of friends. Recently I began to wonder: What did the speech seem like to the graduates who heard it live? To answer that question I interviewed graduates of the Kenyon Class of ’05. I have an essay out this morning describing what I found.
On May 21, 2005 David Foster Wallace delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College. In the years since, the speech has come to play an important role in way Wallace’s work is received and remembered. Depending on who you ask, the speech is the clearest distillation Wallace ever gave of the themes that run through his fiction, or it is a powerful practical guide for how to live a good life, or—in the way the speech has been marketed since—it’s an example of how a vibrant, challenging artist can be packaged for mainstream consumption.