Roger Federer’s Dartmouth Commencement Address: “Effortless Is a Myth” & Other Life Lessons from Tennis

In 2006, David Fos­ter Wal­lace pub­lished a piece in the New York Times Mag­a­zine head­lined “Roger Fed­er­er as Reli­gious Expe­ri­ence.” Even then, he could declare Fed­er­er, “at 25, the best ten­nis play­er cur­rent­ly alive. Maybe the best ever.” Much had already been writ­ten about “his old-school sto­icism and men­tal tough­ness and good sports­man­ship and evi­dent over­all decen­cy and thought­ful­ness and char­i­ta­ble largess.” Less eas­i­ly com­ment­ed upon — because much less eas­i­ly described — was the aes­thet­ic tran­scen­dence of his per­for­mance on the court, which Wal­lace thought best wit­nessed in per­son.

“If you’ve watched ten­nis only on tele­vi­sion, you sim­ply have no idea how hard these pros are hit­ting the ball, how fast the ball is mov­ing, how lit­tle time the play­ers have to get to it, and how quick­ly they’re able to move and rotate and strike and recov­er,” Wal­lace writes. “And none are faster, or more decep­tive­ly effort­less about it, than Roger Fed­er­er.” Was that one of the obser­va­tions the cham­pi­on had in mind this past week­end, eigh­teen years lat­er — and two years after his own retire­ment from the game — when he took the tree-stump lectern before Dart­mouth’s class of 2024 and declared that “Effort­less is a myth”?

That was one of three “ten­nis lessons” — that is, lessons for life derived from his long and huge­ly suc­cess­ful expe­ri­ence in ten­nis — that Fed­er­er lays out in the com­mence­ment address above. The sec­ond, “It’s only a point,” is a notion of which it’s all too easy to lose sight of amid the bal­let­ic inten­si­ty of a match. The third, “Life is big­ger than the court,” is one Fed­er­er him­self now must learn in the dai­ly life after his own “grad­u­a­tion” that stretch­es out before him. For a man still con­sid­ered one of the great­est play­ers ever to pick up a rack­et, is there life after pro­fes­sion­al ten­nis?

Fed­er­er acknowl­edges the irony of his not hav­ing gone to col­lege, but choos­ing instead to leave school at six­teen in order to devote him­self to his sport. “In many ways, pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes are our cul­ture’s holy men,” Wal­lace writes in anoth­er essay. “They give them­selves over to a pur­suit, endure great pri­va­tion and pain to actu­al­ize them­selves at it, and enjoy a rela­tion­ship to per­fec­tion that we admire and reward.” But when their ath­let­ic careers inevitably end, they find them­selves in a great­ly height­ened ver­sion of the sit­u­a­tion we all do when we come to the end of our insti­tu­tion­al­ized edu­ca­tion, won­der­ing what could or should come next.

Clear­ly, Fed­er­er does­n’t suf­fer from the kind of inar­tic­u­la­cy and unre­flec­tive­ness that Wal­lace diag­nosed over and over in oth­er pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes about whom he wrote. In pro­fil­ing play­er Michael Joyce, for instance, Wal­lace saw that Joyce and his col­leagues lived in “a world that, like a child’s world, is very seri­ous and very small” — but which Fed­er­er has long dis­played an uncom­mon abil­i­ty to see beyond. Still, as he must know, that guar­an­tees him a sat­is­fy­ing sec­ond act no more than even world-beat­ing suc­cess in any giv­en field guar­an­tees any of us gen­er­al well-being in life. Wal­lace, too, knew that full well — and of course, he was no mean com­mence­ment speak­er him­self.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Fos­ter Wallace’s Famous Com­mence­ment Speech, “This is Water,” Gets Ani­mat­ed on a White­board

Ani­ma­tions Revive Lost Inter­views with David Fos­ter Wal­lace, Jim Mor­ri­son & Dave Brubeck

Mar­cel Proust Plays Air Gui­tar on a Ten­nis Rack­et (1891)

30 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Fos­ter Wal­lace on the Web

Bob Dylan and George Har­ri­son Play Ten­nis, 1969

Medieval Ten­nis: A Short His­to­ry and Demon­stra­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

David Foster Wallace’s Famous Commencement Speech, “This is Water,” Gets Animated on a Whiteboard

Author David Fos­ter Wal­lace titled his famous address to Keny­on Col­lege’s Class of 2005 “This is Water,” a ref­er­ence to its open­ing joke — self-mock­ing­ly framed as a “didac­tic lit­tle para­ble-ish sto­ry” that is “a stan­dard require­ment of US com­mence­ment speech­es:”

There are these two young fish swim­ming along and they hap­pen to meet an old­er fish swim­ming the oth­er way, who nods at them and says “Morn­ing, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then even­tu­al­ly one of them looks over at the oth­er and goes “What the hell is water?”

Mark Wood­ing, founder of After Skool, a YouTube chan­nel “com­mit­ted to find­ing the most pow­er­ful con­tent and deliv­er­ing it in the most engag­ing way pos­si­ble” gave his white­board ani­ma­tion of the speech a dif­fer­ent title: “Your Mind is an Excel­lent Ser­vant, but a Ter­ri­ble Mas­ter.”

It’s the “old cliche” Wal­lace invoked mid­way through, not­ing that “like many clichés, so lame and unex­cit­ing on the sur­face, (it) actu­al­ly express­es a great and ter­ri­ble truth:”

It is not the least bit coin­ci­den­tal that adults who com­mit sui­cide with firearms almost always shoot them­selves in: the head. They shoot the ter­ri­ble mas­ter. And the truth is that most of these sui­cides are actu­al­ly dead long before they pull the trig­ger.

Wal­lace him­self died by sui­cide a lit­tle more than three years after deliv­er­ing the speech, prompt­ing author Tom Bis­sell to write in an essay for the New York Times that “the ter­ri­ble mas­ter even­tu­al­ly defeat­ed David Fos­ter Wal­lace, which makes it easy to for­get that none of the cloud­less­ly sane and true things he had to say about life in 2005 are any less sane or true today, how­ev­er trag­ic the truth now seems:”

This Is Water does noth­ing to lessen the pain of Wallace’s defeat. What it does is remind us of his strength and good­ness and decen­cy — the parts of him the ter­ri­ble mas­ter could nev­er defeat, and nev­er will.

We braced a bit won­der­ing how Wood­ing would han­dle this por­tion of the speech.

It would have been a good time for one of his more abstract flights of fan­cy.

In truth, some­times Wooding’s dry erase draw­ings clut­tered our head­space unnec­es­sar­i­ly, dis­tract­ing from Wallace’s mes­sage. Isn’t that iron­ic? A large part of the speech deals with choos­ing what to pay atten­tion to, and how to pay atten­tion to it.

In an attempt to fol­low Wallace’s advice and push back against the “basic self-cen­tered­ness …that is our default set­ting, hard-wired into our boards at birth”, we’ll con­cede that Wood­ing’s ani­ma­tion may help the speech land with those who’d give a pass on lis­ten­ing to an audio record­ing or read­ing a tran­script.

As Wood­ing told the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle, “Some peo­ple are visu­al learn­ers, some learn by hear­ing things, some have to do it… what I’ve tried to do with After Skool is com­bine every style of learn­ing to make the ideas as acces­si­ble as pos­si­ble, to take ideas that are kind of com­plex and make it so that an eighth-grad­er can under­stand it.”

The wick­et grows a bit stick­i­er when Wood­ing delves into the long pas­sages where­in Wal­lace unleash­es a tor­rent of grouchy self-serv­ing thoughts born of bore­dom, rou­tine and pet­ty frus­tra­tion… as an “exam­ple of how NOT to think”, he says in an aside.

Wal­lace pre­sent­ed this unvar­nished ugli­ness as a set up, some­thing to throt­tle back from — an illus­tra­tion of how our lizard brains’ snap judg­ments need not get the final word:

… if you’re aware enough to give your­self a choice, you can choose to look dif­fer­ent­ly at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the check­out line. Maybe she’s not usu­al­ly like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights hold­ing the hand of a hus­band who is dying of bone can­cer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehi­cle depart­ment, who just yes­ter­day helped your spouse resolve a hor­rif­ic, infu­ri­at­ing, red-tape prob­lem through some small act of bureau­crat­ic kindness…If you’re auto­mat­i­cal­ly sure that you know what real­i­ty is, and you are oper­at­ing on your default set­ting, then you, like me, prob­a­bly won’t con­sid­er pos­si­bil­i­ties that aren’t annoy­ing and mis­er­able. But if you real­ly learn how to pay atten­tion, then you will know there are oth­er options.

We wish Wood­ing had leaned out rather than in when Wallace’s bad mood makes him view the peo­ple suf­fer­ing through traf­fic jams, crowd­ed aisles, and long check­out lines with him as “repul­sive”, “stu­pid”, “cow-like”, and “dead-eyed”.

Know­ing that Wal­lace was wind­ing up to reveal these knee jerk assess­ments as the fab­ri­ca­tions of a testy, self-absorbed mind oper­at­ing on autopi­lot, the illus­tra­tions might have bet­ter served the mes­sage had they been a step or two ahead of the mes­sen­ger. Doo­dles depict­ing these peo­ple as far more neu­tral look­ing than the delib­er­ate­ly vit­ri­olic por­trait Wal­lace was paint­ing could have added some dimen­sion.

It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that these visu­als aren’t ani­mat­ed in the tra­di­tion­al sense. They’re manip­u­lat­ed time lapse draw­ings. Unless Wood­ing breaks out the eras­er and dou­bles back to make mod­i­fi­ca­tions, they’re fixed on the white­board and in our minds.

This may explain in part why the fed up mom in the check out line appears to get a fair­er shake in The Glos­sary’s live action adap­ta­tion of excerpts from the same speech, below.

If you’d rather not gild the lily with white­board ani­ma­tion, you can lis­ten to Wallace’s speech and read the tran­script here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Dr. Fauci Reads an Undergrad’s Entire Thesis, Then Follows Up with an Encouraging Letter

Pho­to via the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases 

What are some qual­i­ties to look for in a leader?

  • A thirst for knowl­edge
  • A sense of duty
  • The scru­ples to give cred­it where cred­it is due
  • A calm, clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion style
  • Humil­i­ty

Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci brings these qual­i­ties to bear as Direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases at the Nation­al Insti­tute of Health.

They’re also on dis­play in his mes­sage to then-under­grad Luke Mes­sac, now an emer­gency med­i­cine res­i­dent at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, whose research focus­es on the his­to­ries of health pol­i­cy in south­ern Africa and the US, and who recent­ly tweet­ed:

13 years ago, I emailed Dr. Fau­ci out of the blue to ask if I might inter­view him for my under­grad the­sis. He invit­ed me to his office, where he answered all my ques­tions. When I sent him the the­sis, HE READ THE WHOLE THING (see his over­ly effu­sive review below). Who does that?!

Here’s what Fau­ci had to say to the young sci­en­tist:

It cer­tain­ly reads like the work of a class act.

In addi­tion to serv­ing as one of the COVID-19 pandemic’s most rec­og­niz­able faces, Dr. Fau­ci has acquired anoth­er duty—that of scape­goat for Don­ald Trump, the 6th pres­i­dent he has answered to in his long career.

He seems to be tak­ing the administration’s pot­shots with a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly cool head, though com­pared to the furi­ous crit­i­cisms AIDS activists direct­ed his way in the 80s and 90s, he’s unlike­ly to find much of edu­ca­tion­al val­ue in them.

Last March, The Body Pro, a newslet­ter for work­ers on the front lines of HIV edu­ca­tion, pre­ven­tion, care, and ser­vices quot­ed ACT UP NY’s Jim Eigo on the doctor’s response to a let­ter demand­ing par­al­lel track­ing, a pol­i­cy revi­sion that would put poten­tial­ly life-sav­ing drugs in the hands of those who test­ed pos­i­tive far ear­li­er than the exist­ing clin­i­cal tri­al require­ments’ sched­ule would have allowed:

Lo and behold, he read the let­ter and liked it, and the fol­low­ing year he start­ed pro­mot­ing the idea of a par­al­lel track for AIDS drugs to the FDA. Had he not helped us push that through, we couldn’t have got­ten a lot of the cousin drugs to AZT, such as ddC and ddI, approved so fast. They were prob­lem­at­ic drugs, but with­out them, we couldn’t have kept so many peo­ple alive. 

Fau­ci, despite being straight and Catholic, was not only not homo­pho­bic, which much of med­ical prac­tice still was in the late 1980s, he also wouldn’t tol­er­ate homo­pho­bia among his col­leagues. He knew there was no place for that in a pub­lic-health cri­sis.

Speak­ing of cor­re­spon­dence, Dr Mes­sac seems to have tak­en the “per­pet­u­al stu­dent” con­cept Dr. Fau­ci impressed upon him back in 2007 to heart, as evi­denced by a recent tweet, regard­ing a les­son gleaned from Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger in Pump­ing Iron, a 1977 doc­u­men­tary about body­builders:

Schwarzeneg­ger explained how he would fig­ure out what to work out every day by look­ing in a mir­ror and find­ing his weak­est mus­cles. It’s pret­ty good advice for study­ing dur­ing res­i­den­cy. Every shift reveals a weak­ness, and greats nev­er stop look­ing for their own.

In writ­ing to Mes­sac, Dr. Fau­ci allud­ed to his com­mence­ment speech­es, so we thought it appro­pri­ate to leave you with one of his most recent ones, a vir­tu­al address to the grad­u­at­ing class of his alma mater, Col­lege of the Holy Cross:

“Now is the time, if ever there was one” he tells the Class of 2020, “to care self­less­ly about one anoth­er… Stay safe, and I look for­ward to the good work you will con­tribute in the years ahead.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Real Women Talk About Their Careers in Sci­ence

Richard Feynman’s Tech­nique for Learn­ing Some­thing New: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Nov­el­ist Cor­mac McCarthy Gives Writ­ing Advice to Sci­en­tists … and Any­one Who Wants to Write Clear, Com­pelling Prose

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

‘Never Be Afraid’: William Faulkner’s Speech to His Daughter’s Graduating Class in 1951

By the start of the 1950s, the eupho­ria felt by Amer­i­cans after win­ning World War II had giv­en way to a per­va­sive atmos­phere of dread.

The Sovi­ets had explod­ed their first atom­ic bomb, McCarthy­ism had reared its head, and Amer­i­ca’s school­child­ren would soon be told to “Duck and Cov­er” at the first sound of a civ­il defense siren.

It was in this cli­mate of pal­pa­ble fear that William Faulkn­er was asked by his daugh­ter, Jill, to speak to her grad­u­at­ing class of 1951 at Uni­ver­si­ty High School in Oxford, Mis­sis­sip­pi. Faulkn­er was at the height of his fame.

Only a few months ear­li­er, in Novem­ber of 1950, he had trav­eled to Swe­den to accept the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture. In his speech at Stock­holm, Faulkn­er said that “the basest of all things is to be afraid”:

“Our tragedy today is a gen­er­al and uni­ver­sal phys­i­cal fear so long sus­tained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer prob­lems of the spir­it. There is only the ques­tion: When will I be blown up?”

Faulkn­er expand­ed on the theme dur­ing the speech to his daugh­ter’s high school class, deliv­ered May 28, 1951 at Ful­ton Chapel on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­sis­sip­pi, or “Ole Miss.”

The occa­sion was some­thing of a home-town tri­umph for Faulkn­er, who had dropped out of high school with­out a diplo­ma. The excerpt above is from a short doc­u­men­tary released in 1952 called, sim­ply, William Faulkn­er. Two pas­sages from the speech are omit­ted in the film. You can read the com­plete text below. Faulkn­er begins with a pas­sage from Hen­ri Esti­enne’s 1594 book Les Prémices: “If youth only knew; if age only could.”

“Years ago, before any of you were born, a wise French­man said, ‘If youth knew; if age could.’ We all know what he meant: that when you are young, you have the pow­er to do any­thing, but you don’t know what to do. Then, when you have got old and expe­ri­ence and obser­va­tion have taught you answers, you are tired, fright­ened; you don’t care, you want to be left alone as long as you your­self are safe; you no longer have the capac­i­ty or the will to grieve over any wrongs but your own.

“So you young men and women in this room tonight, and in thou­sands of oth­er rooms like this one about the earth today, have the pow­er to change the world, rid it for­ev­er of war and injus­tice and suf­fer­ing, pro­vid­ed you know how, know what to do. And so accord­ing to the old French­man, since you can’t know what to do because you are young, then any­one stand­ing here with a head full white hair should be able to tell you.

“But maybe this one is not as old and wise as his white hairs pre­tend to claim. Because he can’t give you a glib answer or pat­tern either. But he can tell you this, because he believes this. What threat­ens us today is fear. Not the atom bomb, nor even fear of it, because if the bomb fell on Oxford tonight, all it could do would be to kill us, which is noth­ing, since in doing that, it will have robbed itself of its only pow­er over us: which is fear of it, the being afraid of it. Our dan­ger is not that. Our dan­ger is the forces in the world today which are try­ing to use man’s fear to rob him of his indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, his soul, try­ing to reduce him to an unthink­ing mass by fear and bribery — giv­ing him free food which he has not earned, easy and val­ue­less mon­ey which he has not worked for; the economies and ide­olo­gies or polit­i­cal sys­tems, com­mu­nist or social­is­tic or demo­c­ra­t­ic, what­ev­er they wish to call them­selves, the tyrants and the politi­cians, Amer­i­can or Euro­pean or Asi­at­ic, what­ev­er they call them­selves, who would reduce man to one obe­di­ent mass for their own aggran­dize­ment and pow­er, or because they them­selves are baf­fled and afraid, afraid of, or inca­pable of, believ­ing in man’s capac­i­ty for courage and endurance and sac­ri­fice.

“That is what we must resist, if we are to change the world for man’s peace and secu­ri­ty. It is not men in the mass who can and will save man. It is man him­self, cre­at­ed in the image of God so that he shall have the pow­er to choose right from wrong, and so be able to save him­self because he is worth sav­ing — man, the indi­vid­ual, men and women, who will refuse always to be tricked or fright­ened or bribed into sur­ren­der­ing, not just the right but the duty too, to choose between jus­tice and injus­tice, courage and cow­ardice, sac­ri­fice and greed, pity and self — who will believe always not only in the right of man to be free of injus­tice and rapac­i­ty and decep­tion, but the duty and respon­si­bil­i­ty of man to see that jus­tice and truth and pity and com­pas­sion are done.

“So, nev­er be afraid. Nev­er be afraid to raise your voice for hon­esty and truth and com­pas­sion, against injus­tice and lying and greed. If you, not just you in this room tonight, but in all the thou­sands of oth­er rooms like this one about the world today and tomor­row and next week, will do this, not as a class or class­es, but as indi­vid­u­als, men and women, you will change the earth; in one gen­er­a­tion all the Napoleons and Hitlers and Cae­sars and Mus­soli­n­is and Stal­ins and all the oth­er tyrants who want pow­er and aggran­dize­ment, and the sim­ple politi­cians and time-servers who them­selves are mere­ly baf­fled or igno­rant of afraid, who have used, or are using, or hope to use, man’s fear and greed for man’s enslave­ment, will have van­ished from the face of it.”

When he was fin­ished, Faulkn­er gave his copy of the speech to the edi­tor of the local news­pa­per. At a par­ty after­ward he reportedly said, “You know, I nev­er knew how nice a grad­u­a­tion could be. This is the first one I’ve ever been to.”

To watch the full film from which the speech is tak­en, see our ear­li­er post: “Rare 1952 Film: William Faulkn­er on His Native Soil in Oxford, Mis­sis­sip­pi.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William Faulkn­er Reads His Nobel Prize Speech

Sev­en Tips From William Faulkn­er on How to Write Fic­tion

7 Nobel Speech­es by 7 Great Writ­ers: Hem­ing­way, Faulkn­er and More

Todd Rundgren’s Advice to Young Artists: Be Free and Fearless, Make Art That Expresses Your True Self, and Never Mind the Critics

The Inter­net has redeemed grad­u­a­tion sea­son for those of us whose com­mence­ment speak­ers failed to inspire.

One of the chief dig­i­tal plea­sures of the sea­son is truf­fling up words of wis­dom that seem ever so much wis­er than the ones that were poured past the mor­tar­board into our own ten­der ears.

Our most-recent­ly found pearls come from the mouth of one of our favorite dark hors­es, musi­cian, pro­duc­er, and mul­ti­me­dia pio­neer Todd Rund­gren, one of Berklee Col­lege of Music’s 2017 com­mence­ment speak­ers.

Rund­gren claims he nev­er would have passed the pres­ti­gious institution’s audi­tion. He bare­ly man­aged to grad­u­ate from high school. But he struck a blow for life­long learn­ers whose pur­suit of knowl­edge takes place out­side the for­mal set­ting by earn­ing hon­orary degrees from both Berklee, and DePauw Uni­ver­si­ty, where the new­ly anoint­ed Doc­tor of Per­form­ing Arts can be seen below, study­ing his hon­oris causa as the school band ser­e­nades him with a stu­dent-arranged ver­sion of his song, All the Chil­dren Sing.

Rundgren’s out­sider sta­tus played well with Berklee’s Class of 2017, as he imme­di­ate­ly ditched his cer­e­mo­ni­al head­dress and con­ferred some cool on the sun­glass­es dic­tat­ed by his fail­ing vision.

But it wasn’t all open­ing snark, as he praised the stu­dents’ pre­vi­ous night’s musi­cal per­for­mance, telling them that they were a cred­it to their school, their fam­i­lies and them­selves.

His was a dif­fer­ent path.

Rund­gren, an expe­ri­enced pub­lic speak­er, claims he was stumped as to how one would go about craft­ing com­mence­ment speech­es. Reject­ing an avalanche of advice, whose urgency sug­gest­ed his speech could only result in “uni­ver­sal jubi­la­tion or mass sui­cide if (he) didn’t get it right,” he chose instead to spend his first 10 min­utes at the podi­um recount­ing his per­son­al his­to­ry.

It’s inter­est­ing stuff for any stu­dent of rock n roll, with added cool points owing to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s fail­ure to acknowl­edge this musi­cal inno­va­tor.

Whether or not the Class of 17 were famil­iar with their speak­er pri­or to that day, it’s prob­a­ble most of them were able to do the math and real­ize that the self-edu­cat­ed Rund­gren would have been their age in 1970, when his debut album, Runt, was released, and only a cou­ple of years old­er when his third album, 1972’s two disc, Rital­in-fueled Something/Anything shot him to fame.

After which, this proud icon­o­clast prompt­ly thumbed his nose at com­mer­cial suc­cess, detour­ing into the son­ic exper­i­ments of A Wiz­ard, a True Star, whose dis­as­trous crit­i­cal recep­tion belies the mas­ter­piece rep­u­ta­tion it now enjoys.

Rolling Stone called it a case of an artist “run amok.”

Pat­ti Smith, whose absolute­ly manda­to­ry Creem review reads like beat poet­ry, was a rare admir­er.

Did a shiv­er of fear run through the par­ents in the audi­ence, as Rund­gren regaled their chil­dren with tales of how this delib­er­ate trip into the unknown cost him half his fan­base?

How much is Berklee’s tuition these days, any­way?

Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal urges from the com­mence­ment podi­um run the risk of com­ing off as inap­pro­pri­ate indul­gence, but Rundgren’s per­son­al sto­ry is sup­port­ing evi­dence of his very wor­thy mes­sage to his younger fel­low artists :

  • Don’t self-edit in an attempt to fit some­one else’s image of who you should be as an artist. See your­self.
  • Use your art as a tool for vig­or­ous self-explo­ration.
  • Com­mit to remain­ing free and fear­less, in the ser­vice of your defin­ing moment, whose arrival time is rarely pub­lished in advance.
  • Don’t view grad­u­a­tion as the end of your edu­ca­tion. Think of it as the begin­ning. Learn about the things you love.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne’s Grad­u­a­tion Speech Offers Trou­bling and Encour­ag­ing Advice for Stu­dents in the Arts

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth is Nev­er Hav­ing to Spend Time with A‑Holes

The First 10 Videos Played on MTV: Rewind the Video­tape to August 1, 1981

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Graduation Highlight: Billionaire Robert F. Smith Announces That He’ll Pay Off the Student Loans of Morehouse’s Class of 2019

Robert F. Smith, the bil­lion­aire CEO of Vista Equi­ty Part­ners, received an hon­orary degree from More­house Col­lege on Sun­day. And he gave some­thing back–a grant to retire the stu­dent loans of More­house­’s 2019 grad­u­at­ing class. Like that an esti­mat­ed $40 mil­lion in debt was gone.

Mean­while, in oth­er news, a titan of indus­try spent $90 mil­lion this week on a Jeff Koons rab­bit stat­ue. And now it will like­ly serve as an orna­ment piece in a walled-off man­sion some­where. Imag­ine how that mon­ey could have been put to more pro­duc­tive use…

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Is the Leonar­do da Vin­ci Paint­ing “Sal­va­tor Mun­di” (Which Sold for $450 Mil­lion in 2017) Actu­al­ly Authen­tic?: Michael Lewis Explores the Ques­tion in His New Pod­cast

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth is Nev­er Hav­ing to Spend Time with A‑Holes

Meryl Streep Gives Grad­u­a­tion Speech at Barnard

David Byrne’s Grad­u­a­tion Speech Offers Trou­bling and Encour­ag­ing Advice for Stu­dents in the Arts

Jim Car­rey Com­mence­ment Speech: It’s Bet­ter to Fail at What You Love Than Fail at What You Don’t

‘This Is Water’: Com­plete Audio of David Fos­ter Wallace’s Keny­on Grad­u­a­tion Speech (2005)

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Neil Gaiman Reads His Manifesto on Making Art: Features the 10 Things He Wish He Knew As a Young Artist

I think you’re absolute­ly allowed sev­er­al min­utes, pos­si­bly even half a day to feel very, very sor­ry for your­self indeed. And then just start mak­ing art. — Neil Gaiman

It’s a bit ear­ly in the year for com­mence­ment speech­es, but for­tu­nate­ly for life­long learn­ers who rely on a steady drip of inspi­ra­tion and encour­age­ment, author Neil Gaiman excels at putting old wine in new bot­tles.

He repur­posed his keynote address to Philadel­phi­a’s Uni­ver­si­ty of the Arts’ Class of 2012 for Art Mat­ters: Because Your Imag­i­na­tion Can Change the World, a slim vol­ume with hand let­ter­ing and illus­tra­tions by Chris Rid­dell.

The above video cap­tures the fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors appear­ing togeth­er last fall at the East Lon­don cul­tur­al cen­ter Evo­lu­tion­ary Arts Hack­ney in a fundrais­er for Eng­lish PEN, the found­ing branch of the world­wide lit­er­ary defense asso­ci­a­tion. While Gaiman reads aloud in his affa­ble, ever-engag­ing style, Rid­dell uses a brush pen to bang out 4 3/4 line draw­ings, riff­ing on Gaiman’s metaphors.

While the art-mak­ing “rules” Gaiman enu­mer­ates here­in have been extrap­o­lat­ed and wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed (includ­ing, nev­er fear, below), it’s worth hav­ing a look at why this event called for a live illus­tra­tor.

Leav­ing aside the fact that each tick­et pur­chas­er got a copy of Art Mat­ters, auto­graphed by both men, and a large signed print was auc­tioned off on behalf of Eng­lish PEN, Gaiman holds illus­tra­tions in high regard.

His work includes pic­ture books, graph­ic nov­els, and light­ly illus­trat­ed nov­els for teens and young adults, and as a mature read­er, he, too, delights in visu­als, sin­gling out Frank C. Papé’s draw­ings for the decid­ed­ly “adult” 1920s fan­ta­sy nov­els of James Branch Cabell. (1929’s Some­thing about Eve fea­tured a bux­om female char­ac­ter angri­ly fry­ing up her hus­band’s man­hood for din­ner and an erot­ic entry­way that would have thrilled Dr. Seuss.)

In an inter­view with Water­stones book­sellers upon the pub­li­ca­tion of Nev­er­where anoth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rid­dell, Gaiman mused:

…a good illus­tra­tor, for me, is like going to see a play. You are going to get some­thing brought to life for you by a spe­cif­ic cast in a spe­cif­ic place. That way of illus­trat­ing will nev­er hap­pen again. You know, some­body else could illus­trate it—there are hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent Alice in Won­der­lands.

Which we could cer­tain­ly take to mean that if Riddell’s style doesn’t grab you the way it grabs Gaiman (and the juries for sev­er­al pres­ti­gious awards) per­haps you should tear your eyes away from the screen and illus­trate what you hear in the speech.

Do you need to know how to draw as well as he does? The rules, below, sug­gest not. We’d love to take a peek inside your sketch­book after.

  1. Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t lis­ten to any­one who says there are rules and lim­its.

  2. If you know your call­ing, go there. Stay on track. Keep mov­ing towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sac­ri­fice.

  3. Learn to accept fail­ure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll prob­a­bly feel like a fraud. It’s nor­mal.

  4. Make mis­takes, glo­ri­ous and fan­tas­tic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and try­ing things.

  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.

  6. Make your own art, mean­ing the art that reflects your indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and per­son­al vision.

  7. You get free­lance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on dead­line. Actu­al­ly you don’t need all three. Just two.

  8. Enjoy the ride. Don’t fret it all away. (That one comes com­pli­ments of Stephen King.)

  9. Be wise and accom­plish things in your career. If you have prob­lems get­ting start­ed, pre­tend you’re some­one who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.

  10. Leave the world more inter­est­ing than it was before.

Read a com­plete tran­script of the speech here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil Gaiman Teach­es the Art of Sto­ry­telling in His New Online Course

Hear Neil Gaiman Read a Beau­ti­ful, Pro­found Poem by Ursu­la K. Le Guin to His Cousin on Her 100th Birth­day

18 Sto­ries & Nov­els by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Read­ings by Neil Him­self

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City tonight as host of The­ater of the Apes’ month­ly  book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Tim Minchin Presents “9 Rules to Live By” in a Funny and Wise Commencement Speech (2013)

Tim Minchin isn’t much of a role mod­el in the hair brush­ing depart­ment, but in every oth­er way the pro­lif­ic comedian/actor/writer/musician/director inspires.

He’s unabashed­ly enthu­si­as­tic about sci­ence, a life­long learn­er who’s a strong believ­er in the pow­er of exer­cise, trav­el, and thank you notes….

He uses his star­dom and tal­ent for pen­ning con­tro­ver­sial lyrics to raise aware­ness and mon­ey for such caus­es as the UK’s Nation­al Autis­tic Soci­ety and a local char­i­ty formed to send adults who, as chil­dren, were sex­u­al­ly abused by Catholic cler­gy, to Rome.

His cre­ative out­put is prodi­gious.

And he’s one hel­lu­va com­mence­ment speak­er.

In 2013, his alma mater, the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­ern Aus­tralia, award­ed him an Hon­orary Degree of Doc­tor of Let­ters and invit­ed him to address the grad­u­at­ing class.

The speak­er insist­ed up front that an “inflat­ed sense of self impor­tance” born of address­ing large crowds was the only thing that posi­tioned him to give such an address, then went on to share a fun­ny 9‑point guide to life that stressed the impor­tance of grat­i­tude, edu­ca­tion, intel­lec­tu­al rig­or, and kind­ness toward oth­ers.

If you haven’t the time to watch the entire 12-minute speech, above, be sure to cir­cle back lat­er. His advice is hilar­i­ous, heart­warm­ing, and mem­o­rable.

In extrap­o­lat­ing the essence of each of his nine “life lessons” below, we dis­cov­ered many bonus lessons con­tained there­in (one of which we include below.)

Tim Minchin’s 9 Rules To Live By

  1. You don’t have to have a dream. Be micro-ambi­tious and see what hap­pens as you pur­sue short-term goals…
  2. Rather than chas­ing hap­pi­ness for your­self, keep busy and aim to make some­one else hap­py.
  3. Remem­ber that we are lucky to be here, and that most of us — espe­cial­ly those of us with a col­lege edu­ca­tion, or those active­ly seek­ing to edu­cate them­selves to a sim­i­lar degree—will achieve a lev­el of wealth that “most humans through­out his­to­ry could not have dreamed of.”
  4. Exer­cise. Among oth­er things, it helps com­bat depres­sion. 
  5. Iden­ti­fy your bias­es, prej­u­dices, and priv­i­leges and do not exempt your own beliefs and opin­ions from intel­lec­tu­al rig­or.
  6. Be a teacher!  Swell the ranks of this noble pro­fes­sion.
  7. Define your­self by what you love, rather than what you despise, and lav­ish praise on the peo­ple and things that move you.
  8. Respect those with less pow­er than your­self, and be wary of those who do not. 
  9. Don’t be in a rush to suc­ceed. It might come at a cost. 

BONUS.  Uphold the notion that art and sci­ence are not an either/or choice, but rather com­pli­ment each oth­er. “If you need proof—Twain, Dou­glas Adams, Von­negut, McE­wan, Sagan and Shake­speare, Dick­ens for a start. …The arts and sci­ences need to work togeth­er to improve how knowl­edge is com­mu­ni­cat­ed. “

Read the full tran­script of Minchin’s com­mence­ment speech here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

NPR Launch­es Data­base of Best Com­mence­ment Speech­es Ever

David Lynch Gives Uncon­ven­tion­al Advice to Grad­u­ates in an Unusu­al Com­mence­ment Address

Jon Stewart’s William & Mary Com­mence­ment Address: The Entire World is an Elec­tive

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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