‘Of all the parts of your body – be most vigilant over your index finger – for it is blame-thirsty. A pointed finger is a victim’s logo’.
The exquisite commencement address is a special kind of art – necessitating in equal parts the vulnerability of sharing personal experience and the challenge of extracting from it wisdom of universal resonance.
Among history’s most memorable are Neil Gaiman on making good art – Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life – Judith Butler on the value of reading and the humanities – Oprah on failure and finding your purpose – Greil Marcus on the essence of art- Joss Whedon on embracing our inner contradictions – Bill Watterson on creative integrity and more fantastic speeches by Ann Patchett, Jacqueline Novogratz, David Foster Wallace, Ellen DeGeneres, Aaron Sorkin, Barack Obama, Ray Bradbury, J. K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, Robert Krulwich, Meryl Streep, and Jeff Bezos.
But one of the greatest masterpieces of the genre came long before this art-form was a marketable ‘genre’.
On December 18 1988 – twenty-five years after his writing had been denounced as ‘anti-Soviet’ in his native Russia and mere months after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for an all-embracing authorship imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity’ – prolific poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky took the podium at Ann Arbor and addressed the graduating class at the University of Michigan with one of the most beautiful and timeless commencement speeches ever given –
– offering six invaluable pieces of wisdom on good-personhood and the meaning of life.