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."
Author's Note: 10 Famous Commencement Speeches
I've been part of a few graduating classes and don't remember a single graduation speech given on those big days. Maybe it was the excitement or the heat (a lack of air conditioning in my college graduation hall left lots of people feeling woozy), but these addresses don't really stand out. Fast-forward to this assignment, and I found myself reading and watching graduation speeches. Steve Jobs' speech was particularly touching because I knew what he could not possibly have known at the time: the date of his death just a few years later.
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- Bosman, Julie. "Graduation Speech by George Saunders to Become a Book." The New York Times. Aug. 7, 2013. (March 8, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/business/media/graduation-speech-by-george-saunders-to-become-a-book.html
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- Enslin, Rob. "George Sanders G'88 Delivers 2013 Convocation Address." Syracuse University. May 20, 2013. (March 8, 2014) http://asnews.syr.edu/newsevents_2013/releases/george_saunders_convocation.html
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- Holy Cross. "Book Notes." (March 8, 2014) http://www.holycross.edu/departments/publicaffairs/hcm/spring00/booknotes/index.html
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- Kellogg, Carolyn. "David Foster Wallace's Kenyon Commencement Speech." Los Angeles Times. Sept. 19, 2008. (March 8, 2014) http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2008/09/david-foster-wa.html
- Melathe, Alvin. "The Earth-Shatteringly Amazing Speech That'll Change The Way You Think About Adulthood." (March 8, 2014) http://www.upworthy.com/the-earth-shatteringly-amazing-speech-that-ll-change-the-way-you-think-about-adulthood-4
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- MIT. "Kofi A. Annan: Commencement Address." June 6, 1997. (March 8, 2014) http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/97/annansp.html
- MIT. "Real 'Sunscreen Speech' Author Sets Record Straight." Aug. 13, 1997. (March 8, 2014) http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/1997/sunscreen-0813.html
- PBS. "American University Speech, 1963." (March 8, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/jfk-university/
- Schmich, Mary. "Advice, Like Youth, Probably Wasted on the Young." The Chicago Tribune. June 1, 1997. (March 8, 2014) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-schmich-sunscreen-column,0,4054576.column?page=1
- Shriver, Maria. "The Power of the Pause." May 12, 2012. (March 8, 2014) http://mariashriver.com/blog/2012/05/power-of-the-pause-maria-shriver-commencement-address/
- Stanford Report. "You've Got to Find What You Love." June 14, 2005. (March 8, 2014) http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html
- The University of the Arts. "Neil Gaiman: Keynote Address 2012." May 17, 2012. (March 8, 2014) http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012
- Wallace, David Foster. "David Foster Wallace on Life and Work." Sept. 19, 2008. (March 8, 2014) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122178211966454607?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB122178211966454607.html
- White House. "Remarks by the President at Morehouse College Commencement Ceremony." May 19, 2013. (March 8, 2014) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/19/remarks-president-morehouse-college-commencement-ceremony
Toxic was the standout winner for Oxford Dictionaries' 2018 Word of the Year.