10 Famous Commencement Speeches


David Foster Wallace at Kenyon, 2005

david foster wallace
David Foster Wallace was photographed in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill., in 1996. © Gary Hannabarger/Corbis

"There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship."

David Foster Wallace, author of "Infinite Jest," delivered a timeless commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005. With touches of the macabre, the speech rang true, if not for graduates on the cusp of shiny new lives, then certainly for their parents.

"There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. Once such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration," Wallace said, describing a resentful stop at a crowded grocery store after work for illustration.

While Wallace's speech started as a downer, it ended on notes of transcendent grace, because he pointed out, you get to choose how you'll respond to life's frustrations and pettiness.

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day" [sources: Kellogg, Wallace].

So provocative was Wallace's address that it went viral. After Wallace's suicide in 2008, a portion of his address became a short film and was published in its entirety as a book.