“This is Water” – DFW’s Epic Commencement Speech

[NOTE: This post just introduces David Foster Wallace (or “DFW” as he’s affectionately known) and the epic speech he gave. As such, it serves as a prerequisite/foundation for an upcoming post on this blog, which will be my discussion and analysis of the speech. The speech itself is quite lengthy and might take time digest and settle in. And so it made sense to break it into two. I will be posting the literary/philosophical discussion as the another blog post within the next few days. *EDIT-10NOV2013* – The detailed analysis has now been posted on the blog, and can be found HERE.]

Firstly, for those who haven’t read the speech, some context. David Foster Wallace was an award winning American author, widely known for his seminal magnum-opus “Infinite Jest”. He struggled with clinical depression (including undergoing several severe depressive episodes) for most of his adult life. In 2005, he spoke at length, candidly, eloquently and movingly, about how he has come to view “life”, the process of “living”, elucidating the inherent solipsism of consciousness, the self-centered nature of perception, the construction of meaning (often unconsciously), the real challenges of a human being, and the true meaning and purpose of a real education – that of simple awareness and conscious focus. Gritty, Dark, Grim, Poetic and ultimately deeply spiritual and spectacular, it’s widely recognized as among the greatest commencement speeches to be ever given.

Sadly and ironically, just 3 years after delivering one of the most riveting, profound and inspirational speeches of all time, he died tragically of a suicide in 2008. That he died in such an utterly needless and tragic manner, succumbing to the darkness that lurks beneath us all, in no way undermines or detracts from the eloquence and importance of his message. What David went through in his final stages is perhaps beyond anything we can fathom, but in retrospect, knowing his tragic end, the speech is in fact all the more exceptional – one realizes he’s actually talking out aloud to himself (to reason with his dark side), as much as addressing the students to impart much-needed wisdom. And that all said and done, his brilliance and his legacy will continue to live long and linger back as a representation of all that the “dark-master” (as David would say) could never touch or corrupt.

Since the discussion that follows in the UPCOMING post extensively references the speech, it would obviously be recommended for you to read/hear speech first. Accordingly, for reference, here you go:

  • A faithful verbatim transcription of the entire speech can be found HERE
  • An Audio Clip of the entire speech on Youtube can be found HERE
  • Highlighted Extracts of the Speech containing Major Thematic Points can be found HERE
  • As a bonus, some other memorable commencement speeches can be found HERE

Hopefully that provides enough context and sets the stage for an epic-length and detailed discussion post upcoming shortly! For those who have tuned out or will tune out for this upcoming post (or tune out in general), I fully understand! TLTR is catching on with me too these days! 🙂 … Although as DFW would say, rebel against your default natural setting by consciously paying attention and not tuning out so much! 😛 😀


6 thoughts on ““This is Water” – DFW’s Epic Commencement Speech

  1. //Sadly and ironically, just 3 years after delivering one of the most riveting, profound and inspirational speeches of all time, he died tragically of a suicide in 2008.//

    What? No!

    I read this speech just a few days back. I saw it in a comment by you on TameSheWolf. Very sad to know that he succumbed to the very thing that he spoke out against.

    BTW, I would suggest that you use fewer tags. I feel that the efficiency of tags reduces with the number of tags used.


    1. Yea he sadly did. That in no way detracts from the perfection of his message and the brilliant way in which he articulated it philosophically in a monolithic epic soliloquy of a speech. What makes the speech all the more special is rather than pandering to happy graduating students (like practically every other commencement speech), and instead of telling them “to go chase your dreams”, he instead gave them a much needed dose of bitter reality and profound zen-wisdom. He didn’t take the easy way out. He pretty much launched into an epic monologue on the importance of empathy, humility and zen-like calmness against all odds, against the very intrinsic patterns of solipsistic unconscious human tendency to get lost in internal monologue, one’s own feelings and one’s own trivial disappointments. Contrast this with every other goddamn commencement speech, where the speaker would make lame inside-jokes, get laughter and applause, and then go on to state empty platitudes and urge students to “make it big” – setting them up perfectly for future life debacles and life disappointments.

      And yes, point noted about potential excessive tagging. Will keep it in mind for the future.


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