Many commencement addresses are forgotten by graduates and their guests as soon as the ceremony is over. But this year, the address at Wesleyan University is getting good online buzz by being built around an unlikely line: "[W]hat I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die." The line, from Joss Whedon, the screenwriter and television producer, actually wasn't meant to be gloomy. Whedon, a member of Wesleyan's Class of 1987, talked about remembering (and not agreeing with) the message of the address by a somewhat cynical Bill Cosby in 1987, and his counter-message mixes idealism and realism.
"I’m confronted by a great deal of grand and worthy ambition from this student body. You want to be a politician, a social worker. You want to be an artist. Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things. That’s it. And that seems like a bit of a contradiction. It doesn’t seem fair. For one thing, we’re telling you, 'Go out into the world!' exactly when your body is saying, 'Hey, let’s bring it down a notch. Let’s take it down.' And it is a contradiction. And that’s actually what I’d like to talk to you about. The contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have, and hopefully, I can explain that."
The address goes on to focus on such contradictions and urges students to accept and thrive under them. "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key — not only to consciousness-but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It’s not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself."
The full text of the address may be found here.