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10 Famous Commencement Speeches

        Culture | Learning

1
George Saunders at Syracuse University, 2013
George Saunders attends the "Reckoning With Torture" panel during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Fred Hayes/Getty Images
George Saunders attends the "Reckoning With Torture" panel during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Fred Hayes/Getty Images

"Be kind."

If you remember nothing else of George Saunders' commencement address at Syracuse University in 2013, odds are he'd want you to know those two words.

"What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness," Saunders said. "Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded ... sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly."

Saunders is an English professor at Syracuse University and writer of short stories, including the collection "The Tenth of December." He can count his graduation speech-turned-book "Congratulations, by the Way," among his credits, too [source: Bosman].

The literary star said that each of us thinks we are the center of the universe and behaves accordingly. So the key to becoming less selfish was to "err in the direction of kindness."

"Do those things that incline you toward 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" [source: Enslin].

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