Congratulations, By the Way: George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates, 2013
In Summer 2013, a graduation speech given by the idiosyncratic novelist, short-story genius and children’s author George Saunders went viral. Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University, in which he focused not only on the importance of kindness but the very real obstacles that stop us from being the best people we can be, which itself might be very different from what we imagine it might be when we‘re young, looking to prove ourselves and conquer the world. Rather than focusing on ‘success,’ as a narrow, measurable construct, Saunders gently reminds these young people, at a key turning point in their lives, that ‘what I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.‘
He goes on to explain in an understated and unsentimental manner that we are more likely to remember the people who are kind to us; even if we are kind to others in order to survive, basically following a Darwinian impulse, kindness is kindness- it still counts. In recognising our flaws and admitting that kindness can be hard, Saunders brings home to us all that it’s not impossible. Saunders unselfishly opens up all the lessons he’s learnt with age, not just with the students of Syracuse University but anyone with a mind to click on a link to the transcription. I would urge you to do just that. It’s also as funny as hell, by the way.